October 18, 2010 by Dean Leverett

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires that EU Member States put in place measures to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) in their marine waters by 2020. This means that EU Member States must develop Marine Strategies for their seas, specifically an assessment of the current state of their marine waters (by 2012), the development of targets and indicators to demonstrate GES (by 2012), establishment of monitoring programmes (by 2014) and the implementation of a programme of measures to meet GES (by 2016).

The MSFD lists 11 GES Descriptors for the specific areas under which GES must be achieved. The European Commission has also recently published a Decision on the Criteria and Methodological Standards of MSFD GES within each of the Descriptors.

The MSFD has now been transposed into UK law and DEFRA have begun the process of developing an approach to implementation in UK marine waters. Mark and I facilitated and chaired a workshop held by DEFRA this week (11th-12th Oct 2010) and attended by UK government marine policy-makers and technical experts to consider each of the 11 MSFD GES Descriptors in an initial effort to define GES and develop GES targets and indicators.

A considerable amount of work remains for the UK government and its agencies in developing and agreeing the final definitions of GES for each Descriptor and in setting appropriate targets and indicators in line with the Commission Decision Criteria, but the workshop discussions provided a firm basis for moving forward. Some Descriptors require considerable further development (particularly those dealing with the state of the marine environment) while others could be resolved in a relatively straightforward way by referring to, and applying where possible, existing legislation and guidance (e.g. the Water Framework Directive, OSPAR Commission).
In the UK, the UKMMAS Charting Progress 2 programme is likely to provide the information used for an initial assessment of UK seas, and the existing UK Clean Seas Environmental Monitoring Programme will be used as the foundation for providing the necessary monitoring data to support initial MFSD activities.

There is no doubt that all Member States will need to wrestle with these issues over the next few months and years and the UK will also need to consult with other member states in our MSFD region (the North East Atlantic) to agree on GES and on the measures that will be taken to achieve it. This is likely to be undertaken through the existing mechanisms of the OSPAR Convention.

While the MSFD is designed specifically to deal with the sustainable management of the marine environment in a way that includes human activity (i.e. it is not concerned with returning the seas to a pristine condition), in the longer term the MSFD is likely to affect all those industries and other stakeholders with an investment in off-shore activity. In particular the fishing, off-shore energy and shipping industries are likely to come under closer scrutiny and possible additional regulation or restrictions based on the range of measures that the UK and other Member States put in place to achieve the GES targets.