The main objective of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive’s (MSFD, or Marine Directive) is to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) in all European waters by 2020. It requires countries to develop marine strategies to realise this aim. Seas At Risk works to ensure that these strategies go beyond business-as-usual and include ambitious targets and effective measures.

The Marine Directive is the first all-encompassing piece of European legislation specifically aimed at the protection of the marine environment. It foresees the implementation of an ecosystem-based approach to the management of activities having an impact on the marine environment.

To help interpret what Good Environmental Status (GES) means in practice, the Directive sets out 11 descriptors which describe what the environment will be like when GES has been achieved. These cover biodiversity, non-indigenous species, commercial fish, eutrophication, marine litter and contaminants, among others. The 2010 Commission Decision on criteria and methodological standards on good environmental status of marine waters contains a number of additional criteria and standards to help Member States define what is GES in relation to these 11 descriptors in a coherent manner.

Under the Directive, Member States have to establish a marine strategy in a step-wise approach. In 2012, as required by the Directive, the countries made an initial assessment of the environmental status of their marine waters, described what Good Environmental Status means for their marine waters and defined a set of environmental targets and indicators to reach GES by 2020. By 2014, they should have put in place national monitoring programmes and, by 2015, Programmes of Measures to achieve GES by 2020. The Programmes of Measures should include spatial protection measures, contributing to coherent and representative networks of marine protected areas.


Acknowledging that marine ecosystems do not recognise political borders, the Marine Directive imposes the obligation of regional cooperation, thus enhancing the role of Regional Seas Conventions, such as the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the North-East Atlantic. In the same spirit, Seas At Risk cooperates with regional and national NGOs to ensure a coordinated NGO input to the process.


Seas At Risk helps ensure NGO involvement in the implementation of the MSFD by developing guidance, organising workshops and participating in the working groups the Commission has set up with the Member States. Also the integration of the MSFD with other relevant policies, such as the Common Fisheries Policy, Blue Growth and shipping is high on our agenda.

With time ticking and little time left before 2020, Seas At Risk launched the “Save EU seas” petition and a social media campaign #EmojiOcean, with the objective to encourage EU member states to meet their commitments under the Marine Directive to achieve ecologically diverse oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive by 2020.