Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD)

European marine waters cover an area that is larger than the European land mass and a coastline three times that of Africa. Many of the threats facing Europe’s seas require cooperation between Member States to tackle them effectively. The European Commission (EC) has developed its own marine policy framework in parallel to a set of international conventions that cover all marine waters. The MSFD was introduced by the EC to address the environmental quality of Europe’s seas, and came into force in 2008 with the overall aim to promote sustainable use of the seas.

The main goal is to achieve or maintain ‘Good Environmental Status’ (GES) in the marine environment by 2020; this is based upon 11 qualitative descriptors:

  1. Biological diversity
  2. Non-indigenous species
  3. Population of commercial fish / shellfish
  4. Elements of marine food webs
  5. Eutrophication
  6. Sea floor integrity
  7. Alteration of hydrographical conditions
  8. Contaminants
  9. Contaminants in fish and seafood for human consumption
  10. Marine litter
  11. Introduction of energy, including underwater noise.

Ireland’s marine environment is one of our greatest national resources. Ireland’s seas are among the most biologically diverse in Europe. As an island nation, the sea has played a vital role in shaping our history, our culture, our way of life and our economy. As the range and intensity of human activities in Irish marine waters increase, so too will the associated pressures on the marine environment. It is vital that we understand how these pressures both individually and cumulatively impact on the integrity of entire marine ecosystems. Unfortunately at present, Ireland is only meeting six out of 11 indicators for GES. 

The MSFD is cyclical and Ireland is currently in the third phase of the second cycle which will set out and update the programme of measures to achieve GES. Establishing a robust and well resourced programme of measures is crucial in order to achieve GES. A public consultation on the third phase of the second cycle is expected in early 2022.

In 2020, SWAN responded to the first phase of the second cycle of the programme which required a reassessment of the state of Ireland’s marine environment, including the impacts of human activities, determining GES and establishing environmental targets. SWAN expressed concerns that the draft report was overly optimistic in its assessments, and it lacked ambition, seemingly proposing the minimum to satisfy the exact wording of the directive. In doing so it failed to be sufficiently progressive with little sense of the urgency required to address the climate and biodiversity emergencies declared by Ireland and recognised internationally. SWAN called for more resources to be allocated to the MSFD process in order to address these issues.

Read SWAN’s submission to the 2020 public consultation on the assessment of GES here