The marine territory covers 70 % of earth surface and more than 50 % of the territory of the EU. Europe’s land is surrounded by five sea basins: the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Baltic Sea, North Sea, and the North Atlantic Ocean.

Marine ecosystems are diverse: some are highly productive and all are important ecologically and economically to humankind. They provide numerous vital goods and services like food and chemicals and play crucial roles in biogeochemical processes sustaining the entire biosphere. Although the marine realm has less species than the terrestrial it has a greater phylogenetic diversity than land faunas and floras.

The main pressures on marine ecosystems are pollution; overexploitation of marine resource; climate change and acidification of the sea; sea uses; and the introduction and spread of invasive alien species.

Marine ecosystems cover marine inlets and transitional waters, coastal, shelf and the open ocean. From the 233 habitat types listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive 6 can be classified as marine habitats. Nearly 65 species targeted by the Habitats Directive are linked to marine ecosystems.

Compared to the terrestrial environment, there are serious delays in identifying marine protected areas and even greater delays in establishing their management status. About 2000 sites had been proposed or classified under the Habitats and Birds Directives, which are either fully or partly marine. Currently most of these sites are near-shore areas. A coherent network is currently lacking, particularly in offshore areas. The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive specifies inter alia the designation of Marine Protected Areas as a means for Europe’s seas to achieve ‘good environmental status’.

Figures from the EU 2010 Biodiversity Baseline

Further reading


Selected links

European Atlas of the Seas

EEA coasts and seas

EEA coasts and seas data service

EC Maritime affairs

EC Marine and Coasts

LIFE projects on marine

Life projects on coasts

Integrated Coastal Zone Management

OSPAR Commission North East Atlantic Sea

HELCOM Helsinki Commission Baltic Sea

Barcelona Convention Mediterranean Sea

Black Sea Commission

International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES)

WISE - Water quality in transitional, marine and coastal waters

OURCOAST, the European portal for Integrated Coastal Zone Management

The European Project on OCean Acidification EPOCA