KnowSeas - Marine Strategy Framework Directive

The Directive 2008/56/EC on establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy, more commonly known as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), was formally adopted by the European Union in July 2008. The Directive aims to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) in Europe’s marine environment by 2020 and outlines a transparent, legislative framework for an ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities which supports the sustainable use of marine goods and services. The main activities within the KnowSeas (Knowledge-based Sustainable Management for Europe’s Seas) project include defining the Ecosystems Approach and describing the challenges when implementing it across European seas.

The MSFD does not state a specific programme of measures that Member States should adopt to achieve GES, except for the establishment of certain marine protected areas.For GES to be achieved in a coherent and strategic manner, four European Marine Regions are established based on geographical and environmental criteria. Every Member State is asked to develop a marine strategy for their waters, in cooperation with other countries within the same marine region coordinated through the Regional Seas Conventions. The marine strategies will be implemented to protect and conserve the marine environment, prevent its deterioration, and, where practicable, restore marine ecosystems in areas where they have been adversely affected. They must contain an initial assessment of the current environmental status of that Member State’s marine waters, a determination of what GES means for those waters, targets and indicators designed to show whether a Member State is achieving GES, a
marine environment monitoring programme to measure progress towards GES and a programme of measures designed to achieve or maintain GES.

The MSFD also outlines 11 high level descriptors of GES:

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


The Directive sets out key requirements and related timeframes. The initial preparatory phase is ending in 2014. To be achieved within this phase are a description of the current environmental status of the waters concerned and the environmental impact of human activities thereon, determination of good environmental status and establishment of environmental targets and associated indicators (by 2012). By 2013, a progress report in the establishment of marine protected areas should be finalized, and by 2014 the establishment and implementation of a monitoring programme for ongoing assessment and regular updating of targets is due.

A programme of measures should be in place by 2015, and the start of it should be no later than 2016. Finally, Good Environmental Status should be achieved by 2020. The MSFD is complementary to, and provide the overarching framework for, a number of other key Directives and legislation at European level. Examples include the EC Habitats Directive, the EC Birds Directive, the EU Water Framework Directive and the Common Fisheries Policy. It is also intended to contribute to the fulfillment of international commitments undertaken at the World Summit on Sustainable Development and under the Convention on Biological Diversity.


Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC)