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Europe contains a wide range of marine ecosystems, ranging from the stable, deep oceans to the highly dynamic coastal waters. Marine waters in European seas have a wide range of salinity. Oceans and seas are still perceived as the last wilderness of the world, but human influence has already reached them all, from the coasts and the sea surface to the deep-sea floor.
Distribution of 6 marine habitats in the EU
Source: Distribution maps (10 km x 10 km) delivered by Member States under Article 17 reporting (period 2013-2018)
Note: the shades of brown indicate the number of habitat types per 10 km x 10 km grid cell
To halt the ongoing deterioration and attenuate the historic human interventions on river systems, the EU Biodiversity aims to restore at least 25 000 km of free-flowing rivers by 2030. Together with the objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive for achieving a good ecological and chemical status for all waterbodies, and the restoration targets of the proposed Nature Restoration Law, European river and lake habitats and their associated biodiversity have a good chance of regeneration.
The Habitats Directive’s Annex I protects 32 river and lake habitat types as well as several alluvial and riparian habitat types. Together, they cover an area of around 96 500 km2 in the EU (except Romania).
The latest assessment of the State of Nature  showed that a high proportion of these Annex I habitats is in unfavourable status (76 %) and 38 % are further deteriorating.
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) as the main EU legislation governing the management of its freshwater resources has already led to some significant improvements in water ecosystems and the wildlife dependent on them. However, the objective of the WFD of achieving good status for all Europe’s waters by 2015 has been missed dramatically.
At least 21 600 km2 of Annex I marine habitats need to be restored and at least 900 km2 of additional areas need to be ‘recreated’ from other land use
According to the results of the EEA restoration assessment, the area of Annex I marine habitats in need of restoration amounts to at least
34 800 km2, representing about 15 % of the total area reported for this group of habitats. However, these values are much higher since several Member States did not provide enough information in their reports to allow a more realistic estimation.
Habitat condition reported for marine habitats
Source: Habitat condition reported by Member States under Article 17 reporting (period 2013-2018)
Note: the restoration surface areas are indicative since they were estimated on the basis of minimum areas reported by Member States and, for most habitats, their condition is largely unknown.
Kattegat © Flickr, Šarūnas Burdulis
CASE STUDY: Restoring reefs in Kattegat
Reefs are particularly difficult habitats to restore, as evidenced by the project BLUEREEF (LIFE06 NAT/DK/000159). This LIFE project set out to rebuild offshore cavernous boulder reefs in the Kattegat which had been exploited. The idea was to build sea defences by restoring the structure and function of the cavernous element of the shallow offshore boulder reefs and by stabilising the top of the existing boulder reef. The project restored the target area using natural stones from a quarry in the southern part of Norway at significant cost. The project increased marine life, including the restoration of 6 tonnes of macroalgal vegetation and 3 tonnes of bottom-living fauna, and evoked a three- to six-fold increase in cod in the reef area.
The project also increased awareness among environmental managers, policymakers and the broader public of marine nature restoration, conservation and management issues. A ‘code of conduct’ (BLUEREEF, 2013), containing valuable experiences and recommendations for carrying out restoration projects, was produced to potentially inspire other areas in northern Europe to restore natural stone reefs. For Danish initiatives, the code also gives guidance on obtaining the necessary permission from different marine authorities. Many of its recommendations are also relevant for the restoration of other marine nature types, such as biogenic reefs. This was a significant input at the local scale but, because the categorisation of the habitat type ‘reefs’ is so broad, this type of project is unlikely to have an impact on the overall conservation status of the habitat. The conservation status of reefs in Denmark’s Marine Atlantic region remains unfavourable-bad.
Restoring the degraded habitats will in many cases include the actions and measures aiming at reducing the current pressures. Main pressures reported under the Article 17 reporting for these habits are pollution, habitat management and habitat conversion.
- Pollution is reported as the main impact on marine habitats covered under Annex I, mainly caused by agriculture or mixed source pollution. Other sources of marine pollution relate to marine aquaculture, or traffic; micro-particles from industrial, residential or recreational activities are also relatively important.
- Habitat management is almost exclusively related to marine fish and shellfish harvesting that cause disturbance or loss of seafloor habitats, e.g. by bottom trawling or benthic dredging.
- Habitat conversion for marine habitats relates to shipping and ferry lanes, anchorage infrastructure (e.g. canalization or dredging) as well as to the development and maintenance of beach areas and other tourism infrastructures. This includes, inter alia, beach nourishment activities and beach cleaning
Pressures reported for marine habitats
Source: Pressure reported by Member States under Article 17 reporting (period 2013-2018). Conservation status of habitat types and species: datasets from Article 17, Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC reporting