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2. Key Messages

Given what we now know, more action is needed

Collective trends point to declining biodiversity and continued habitat degradation across many parts of the OSPAR Maritime Area, even as measures to achieve clean, biodiverse and productive seas have been taken by the OSPAR Contracting Parties. Two things are clear:  1) additional measures are required in order to change a trajectory of nature decline to one of nature recovery, and 2) the existing measures need to be more effective.

Significant advances have been made by OSPAR Contracting Parties to better understand and limit the negative impacts of human activity on the biologically rich North-East Atlantic. Environmental quality has improved in some aspects: releases of the most serious hazardous substances such as PCBs, PAHs and organochlorides have decreased substantially, pollution by radioactive substances has been prevented,  discharges by the oil and gas industry have been reduced, marine litter is better tracked and significant steps have been taken to reduce it, and a gradual reduction of the input and availability of excess nutrients has been witnessed in many OSPAR Regions. However, despite these reductions the impacts of fisheries and other human activities on biodiversity are still deeply felt, and other forms of degradation such as noise pollution are of growing concern. Human pressures also weaken marine ecosystems and reduce their resilience to climate change and ocean acidification that are now driving major changes which imperil much of the North-East Atlantic’s marine biodiversity. Indicator assessments across the major biodiversity groups (marine birds, marine mammals, fish) and ecological assessments of food webs, benthic habitats and pelagic habitats all show declines in biodiversity, despite the progress made in identifying and addressing pressures. These cumulative pressures in addition to climate change not only impact individual species and important functional groups of organisms but may also accelerate the spread of non-indigenous species, many of which can become invasive and further reduce biodiversity. There is thus an ever-more pressing need to address the drivers of degradation and biodiversity loss and thereby increase the health and resilience of the many marine ecosystems in the OSPAR Maritime Area.

Progress towards clean seas is being made but we are not there yet

Negative impacts from oil and gas activities continue to decrease

OSPAR measures have resulted in a decrease in all discharges from the offshore oil and gas sector, including discharges of produced water, oil-based drilling fluids, and chemicals that contain hazardous substances. Some pressures that were once widespread, for example pollution from the discharge of untreated oil-based cuttings, have now ceased and the level of contamination has decreased. A risk-based approach to the management of produced water discharges, the main source of crude oil contamination in the sea, has also been introduced to complement the OSPAR harmonised mandatory control system for offshore chemicals and to promote the shift towards the use of less hazardous substances. At the same time, OSPAR is working towards the total removal of disused oil and gas installations, with more installations to be decommissioned in the next decade. Taking into account the experience with the decommissioning of oil and gas installations, relevant research and the exchange of information, OSPAR aims to ensure that derogations from the dumping ban remain exceptional. These collective measures are expected to further reduce any adverse impacts from oil and gas activities in the OSPAR Maritime Area, although the risks of spills, noise, light and chemical pollution from oil and gas activities remain a concern. The potential increase in carbon dioxide storage projects to offset carbon emissions from carbon-intensive industries in the OSPAR area will also require greater attention from OSPAR Contracting Parties.

Pollution by radioactive substances has been prevented

The QSR 2023 shows that the application of OSPAR measures achieved progressive and substantial reductions of radioactive discharges from the nuclear sector over the period from 1995 to 2018. Discharges of naturally occurring radionuclides from the oil and gas sub-sector have mostly remained unchanged or have decreased slightly. Overall, the Contracting Parties have made notable progress towards fulfilling OSPAR’s ultimate aim of achieving concentrations in the environment near background values for naturally occurring radioactive substances and close to zero for artificial radioactive substances. The Radioactive Substances Committee Thematic Assessment concludes that the environmental concentrations of indicator radionuclides present in the OSPAR Maritime Area are not resulting in any significant radiological impact on humans or the marine environment. OSPAR’s focus for the future is to identify further opportunities to prevent discharges of radioactive substances or, where that is not practicable, minimise those discharges even further. OSPAR will also focus on better understanding of the cumulative effects of the various pressures and of the linkages between climate change and radioactive substances in the OSPAR Maritime Area.

Figure 2.1: Comparison of mean total alpha and total beta (excluding tritium) discharges for the baseline period 1995-2001 (black columns) and assessment period 2012-2018 (grey columns) for the different nuclear sub-sectors

Hazardous substances are cause for concern

While concentrations of most hazardous substances lingering in the environment from past introductions (known as legacy hazardous substances) have decreased, their levels remain a cause for concern in the Greater North Sea, Celtic Seas, and Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast Regions and, at the higher trophic levels, also in the Arctic Region. Restrictions on the use of hazardous substances have been effective in limiting new releases, but their high chemical stability and re-release from sediment means that they remain a concern. Increasing levels of human activities and new uses of both sea and land could result in increased inputs of other substances, the impacts of which are largely unknown due to lack of ecotoxicological data. Pollution from the shipping sector has lessened due to regulations on sulphur and nitrogen emissions and ballast water, measures to limit litter, measures regulating port reception facilities and actions to reduce the risk of oil pollution. By contrast, corollary discharges to water through exhaust-gas cleaning systems are increasing. Furthermore, increased discharges from the rapidly growing aquaculture sector have been reported and it is likely that medicines are included among the substances being discharged. Similarly, dredging and dumping could continue to cause contaminant releases. If seabed mining were to take place in the OSPAR Maritime Area, the potential for additional contaminants would need to be investigated.

Figure 2.2: Case study of TBT in marine gastropods

Figure 2.2: Case study of TBT in marine gastropods

Noise pollution remains a threat

Underwater noise from shipping, oil and gas activities (including seismic surveys) and, increasingly, from offshore wind activities during both construction and exploitation remains a pressure on marine mammals and other forms of marine life. Guidance from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on the reduction of shipping noise has been followed in the OSPAR Maritime Area, but as yet without any significant effect on noise levels. The incidence and intensity of noise pollution, whether continuous noise largely from shipping or impulsive noise from seismic exploration, pile driving and military activities, are expected to increase in the North-East Atlantic. For this reason, OSPAR has committed to producing a regional action plan of measures to reduce noise more effectively.

Eutrophication persists

The input of nutrients from agriculture, aquaculture, wastewater from point sources such as outfalls and riverine discharges, run-off from land and deposition from the atmosphere continue to cause eutrophication in some OSPAR Regions. Eutrophication of coastal waters affects marine productivity, community composition, food web structure and ecosystem carrying capacity, lowers water quality and the aesthetic values of coastal areas, and can threaten human health. In response, OSPAR Contracting Parties have made significant efforts to reduce nutrient inputs to the marine environment, particularly from agricultural sources, municipal wastewater and industrial and atmospheric sources. This has led to a steady improvement in the most affected OSPAR Regions, though the pace of advances in combatting eutrophication has not been sustained as compared to a previous assessment period (2000-2010). Eutrophication persists in river plumes and in some coastal areas, and in some catchments, nutrient inputs have even increased. Contracting Parties remain committed to the ever more difficult task of controlling nutrient pollution from point sources, rivers and the atmosphere – which will only become harder, particularly if climate change exacerbates eutrophication effects. In this regard, the process of setting nutrient reduction targets that reflect how climate change may worsen eutrophication effects is becoming increasingly important. Ways of controlling eutrophication through nature-based solutions which protect and restore estuaries and wetlands that filter nutrients will be explored and adopted where needed.

Marine litter levels remain high despite signs of improvement

Overall, the amounts of marine litter in the OSPAR Maritime Area remain high, although there has been a statistically significant decrease in plastic litter on beaches in most OSPAR Regions and a decrease in floating litter in the North Sea. This can be set against an increase in annual per capita plastic consumption in OSPAR countries, with levels reaching a record 100 kg in western Europe, underlining that waste handling could have an impact on marine pollution levels. The estimated annual input of microplastics into OSPAR catchments averaged over 0,3 Mt, the largest land-based sources being tyre wear and degradation of litter. Additionally, litter from fisheries (solid waste matter including micro-sized litter, and abandoned, lost, and discarded fishing gear), aquaculture, shipping, recreational boating and offshore industries continues to threaten marine species and habitats, particularly in some OSPAR Regions. OSPAR’s 2014 Regional Action Plan for Marine Litter (RAP ML), which sets out commitments to promote waste prevention and management practices that impact significantly on marine litter, to encourage recyclability and reuse of plastic products, to assess instruments to reduce single-use items and to reduce inputs of microplastics, has mostly been implemented. However, it is clear that, despite the progress that has been made to prevent plastics from entering the marine environment, more needs to be done, and this is reflected in the second Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter, adopted in 2022.

Introduction of new non-indigenous species (NIS) appears to have decreased

The rate of new introductions of NIS appears to have fallen steadily over the assessment period, though the trend is uncertain because of differences in national monitoring efforts and reporting lags. Such uncertainties in monitoring effort and the timing of data reporting for the assessment potentially imply a higher rate of introductions than was assessed for this period. Though the data suggest that the range of management measures adopted since QSR 2010 are having some positive effect, the annual rate of introduction remains high. NIS continue to affect marine ecosystems in the OSPAR Maritime Area, through aquaculture escapees, accidental introductions from ballast water and biofouling from shipping. Terrestrial NIS are also impacting marine birds, especially in island breeding colonies. Climate change may reverse any decreasing trends in NIS introductions or accelerate the displacement of native species by NIS. Therefore, OSPAR has aimed to make rapid detection of NIS possible and has established a joint group with HELCOM to align monitoring efforts on NIS introduction. Further investment in mitigation methods and technologies will be needed, together with steps to maximise the health of marine ecosystems in the face of many other pressures and thereby decrease the risk of introduced species becoming invasive.

Figure 2.3: The trend in introductions of non-indigenous species in the North-East Atlantic

Figure 2.3: The trend in introductions of non-indigenous species in the North-East Atlantic

Limited progress has been made towards achieving biologically diverse seas

Despite improvements in some fish populations, many are not in good status

The QSR 2023 provides OSPAR’s most comprehensive integrated status assessment of fish species to date, and is the first to include consideration of commercial fish stocks. Despite further signs of recovery in some fish stocks, the latest assessment shows that the OSPAR targets of achieving 80% of stocks/species in good status were not reached for coastal, demersal or pelagic fish in the Greater North Sea, Celtic Seas and Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast Regions, nor for deep-sea species in these areas and in the Wider Atlantic Region. Fisheries management regulations of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) and national fisheries agencies have successfully limited the harvesting of some commercial fish stocks to sustainable levels, but many stocks are still being harvested unsustainably. By-catch, and the need to better integrate ecosystem function into fisheries management, remain additional concerns. While this may appear to contradict the 2017 Intermediate Assessment, which showed that fisheries management measures were beginning to have a positive impact on fish communities, the two assessments are not comparable. For the QSR 2023, the overall status of fish was assessed by integrating the OSPAR common indicator for the recovery of sensitive fish species and third-party assessments of commercial fish stocks produced by ICES and ICCAT. For its part, OSPAR focused on a list of 22 fish species considered to be under threat and/or in decline in the North-East Atlantic; the QSR 2023 shows that the majority of these species continue to be in poor status. On top of other pressures, including fisheries but also including inputs of nutrients and contaminants, climate change effects and ocean acidification are changing the distribution and abundance of fish and affecting food webs, and may constrain the recovery of threatened fish populations. 

Figure 2.4: The status of fish in the North-East Atlantic

Figure 2.4: The status of fish in the North-East Atlantic

Benthic habitats continue to be damaged

Benthic habitats encompass the biota living on the seafloor. A wide variety of benthic habitats occur in the OSPAR Maritime Area. Where they are assessed in the Greater North Sea, Celtic Seas and Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast Regions benthic habitats are already impacted by human activities. The main pressures include physical disturbance (such as abrasion by bottom trawling), modification of substrate (such as sediment extraction or placement of artificial infrastructure), chemical pollution (nutrients and organic enrichment or contaminants) and biological impacts (spread of non-indigenous species). The degradation of benthic habitats can lead to declining fishery productivity, negative impacts on aquaculture production, loss of nursery habitat, negative impacts on tourism, changes in food webs and lowered water quality. Of the 18 habitats considered by OSPAR to be threatened and/or declining, all but one are in poor status and show no signs of improvement throughout all the OSPAR Regions. Some habitats, such as European flat oyster beds and seagrass beds, also show a decrease in distribution and extent in some Regions. There remain gaps in assessment coverage: oceanic ridges / hydrothermal vents in the Wider Atlantic Region are understudied and comprehensive habitat mapping is incomplete. The future is likely to bring some improvements in trends as countries implement actions to protect habitats of concern. However, climate change and ocean acidification, as well as increasing trends of shifting food and energy production from land to sea, will make it necessary to decrease the pressures on benthic habitats that have been compromised in terms of their quality, function and ability to provide associated ecosystem services.

Sessile, free-standing epibenthic organisms cannot move out of the way of trawl doors and may thus sustain direct injuries and/or mortalities. © Shutterstock

Sessile, free-standing epibenthic organisms cannot move out of the way of trawl doors and may thus sustain direct injuries and/or mortalities. © Shutterstock

Plankton, the base of the marine food web, are impacted in pelagic habitats

The pelagic habitats encompassing the ocean’s water column are home to phytoplankton (microscopic algae) and zooplankton (microscopic animals). These organisms form the base of the marine food web and support species higher in the food web, including fish, birds, and marine mammals. Pelagic habitats in the OSPAR Maritime Area have experienced widespread changes over the past 60 years, with recent changes following long-term trends. Indicator assessments have revealed a general pattern of decreasing phytoplankton and zooplankton abundance and/or biomass across oceanic areas, including much of the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast Region, with more complex changes occurring in the Greater North Sea and Celtic Seas Regions. Phytoplankton biomass has decreased across much of the OSPAR Maritime Area, probably due to widespread changes in water column dynamics and nutrient availability driven by both climate change and reductions in nutrient inputs. The planktonic larvae of benthic invertebrates, such as crabs and sea urchins, have increased in abundance, probably due to increases in sea temperature. By contrast, other zooplankton which provide the crucial link between primary production and fish have experienced long-term declines in abundance which could resonate higher up the food web. The pressures on pelagic habitats include increased sea temperature and changes in hydrography as a result of climate change, changes in nutrient availability, and the introduction of non-indigenous species. The continuation of the long-term trends in plankton communities apparent from the current assessment period is expected to impact marine food webs and the ecosystem services delivered by pelagic habitats.

Figure 2.5: The status of pelagic habitats in the North-East Atlantic

Figure 2.5: The status of pelagic habitats in the North-East Atlantic

Marine birds are still in trouble

Many marine bird species in the OSPAR Maritime Area continue to be in trouble. The assessments showed that most marine birds are not in good status – only some duck and geese species in the Arctic Waters, Celtic Seas and Greater North Sea Regions were shown to be in good status. The broader picture across the OSPAR Maritime Area has not improved since the 2017 Intermediate Assessment issued a warning about the status of marine birds. Of the nine species listed as being threatened and/or in decline by OSPAR, the Balearic shearwater, Black-legged kittiwake, Lesser black-backed gull and Thick-billed murre have been assessed as still in declining status, despite recommended measures having been put in place to address the multiple pressures affecting them. In addition, the Iberian breeding population of the common guillemot became extinct shortly after listing. Most marine birds were already not in good status in 2010, but additional deterioration has been observed for many species in the current assessment, with widespread declines in breeding productivity and population abundance observed in all OSPAR Regions. Climate change is the major driver, affecting food supply and building on underlying pressures such as by-catch, collision, predation by terrestrial non-indigenous species (NIS) such as rats and mink, habitat loss and disturbance from human activities. Certain marine bird groups are particularly vulnerable, including top predator species that are affected by low prey availability and shorebirds that are affected by climate change-driven habitat changes. Collective action in OSPAR has strengthened the knowledge base on listed bird species and their status, and OSPAR’s work on marine birds has led to conservation action at the national level. Coastal and marine protected areas (MPAs) have alleviated some of the pressures affecting these bird species. However, it is clear that the existing protected area network may not be sufficient to safeguard critical habitat for marine birds under pressure. 

Figure 2.6: The status of marine birds in the North-East Atlantic

Figure 2.6: The status of marine birds in the North-East Atlantic

Many marine mammals remain at risk, even while some species are recovering

Marine mammals have been and are subject to significant pressure from both natural causes and human activity, resulting in many populations and species being assessed as not in good status. Many pressures still occur on a wide scale today, such as by-catch and chemical pollution, or are of increasing concern, such as noise, habitat loss or habitat degradation. Marine mammals tend to have wide distributional ranges and some species are very rare or highly cryptic in nature, making their monitoring a challenge. Nonetheless, the assessments on marine mammals in this QSR reveal that many species and populations (including all cetaceans) are not in good status, with limited improvements observed as compared with previous assessments. On the other hand, grey seals, recovering from local extinctions in the past, were found to be in good status in both the Greater North Sea and Celtic Seas Regions, by contrast with the ‘not good’ status found for harbour seals in the Greater North Sea Region. The status of harbour seals in the Celtic Seas Region is unknown because of a lack of data, although, for sites where data are available, their abundance is increasing. There are four marine mammal species (blue whale, northern right whale, bowhead whale and harbour porpoise) that have been listed as threatened or in decline in the OSPAR Maritime Area. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are a tool considered useful for improving the protection of these species, and they form part of a wider response for protecting marine mammals. However, gaps in the OSPAR network of protected areas for marine mammals highlight opportunities for the future development of the network and for making its management more effective. There is limited evidence to date that the measures taken to protect and improve the condition of marine mammal populations have been effective.

Figure 2.7: The status of marine mammals in the North-East Atlantic

Figure 2.7: The status of marine mammals in the North-East Atlantic

We know relatively little about the status of marine turtles

The present status assessment is based on limited data (both spatially and temporally), and the population trends cannot be reliably determined. Limited population data have been generated by the indicator assessment produced for the QSR for “Litter ingested by sea turtles” in the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast Region. Observations of marine turtles in the OSPAR Maritime Area suggest that incidences of loggerhead turtles, particularly juveniles in the Wider Atlantic Region, are increasing slightly, while leatherback turtles appear to be decreasing slightly across the Greater North Sea, Celtic Seas, and Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast Regions. Both species are at risk from by-catch in fisheries and marine litter in the OSPAR Maritime Area and both are experiencing a wider population decline in the North Atlantic, as determined by global population analyses. Climate change impacts in the future may well accelerate these declines and this may counteract any progress made by OSPAR to safeguard marine turtles and their habitats. Stronger understanding will be possible in the future, since OSPAR is poised to improve its tracking of sea turtle status by adopting two additional indicators for future assessments.

Leatherback turtle © Shutterstock

Leatherback turtle © Shutterstock

The state of marine food webs is of great concern

Food webs encompass the organisms in a community, their relationships, and energy transfer through food chains. OSPAR uses a number of indicators to track and model changes to marine food webs. Climate change, fishing, and pollution, in particular, changes in nutrient levels, represent the main human pressures affecting food webs in OSPAR marine ecosystems. Shifts in nutrient availability affect primary producers (phytoplankton) as well as organisms at higher trophic levels, whereas fisheries, shipping, and maritime infrastructure can impact key species and alter food web structure and dynamics. OSPAR Regions have shown differing status and trends in food web components in recent decades. For instance, the structure of demersal fish communities has not achieved good status in the Greater North Sea and Celtic Seas Regions, while no clear change has been found in the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast Region.  However, signs of recovery were observed in top predators and mesopredators of demersal communities in the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast Region. No detectable changes appear to have occurred in the demersal fish communities of the Wider Atlantic Region, although a pilot study modelling food web dynamics around the Azores suggests decreasing trends in biomass at all levels, which could be an indication of decreasing ecosystem resilience or that species are moving north. While many OSPAR measures can contribute to the health of food webs, it has not adopted any specific measures with the explicit objective of supporting the state, function, or resilience of food webs. Nonetheless, there are several examples of measures that explicitly attempt to maintain or restore ecosystem functioning and resilience by safeguarding food webs, including the OSPAR MPA network. Further attention to anthropogenic impacts on food web dynamics and the attendant loss of ecosystem services should highlight additional measures that could be taken to maintain productivity and food web balances.

Figure 2.8: Status of marine food webs in the North-East Atlantic

Figure 2.8: Status of marine food webs in the North-East Atlantic

Climate change and ocean acidification are drivers of major change

The effects of climate change are clearly measurable

Climate change is causing ocean warming, decreased oxygen concentrations, marine heatwaves and sea-level rise, with many further related impacts across marine ecosystems and the services they provide. Climate change also triggers widespread change in the water cycle and is altering ocean stratification and ocean circulation. These changes in the physical and chemical conditions of the marine environment are affecting marine species across the OSPAR Maritime Area, with regional and local variations in these pressures. The root cause is global, but the effects, such as storm intensification, increased risks of flooding and changes in rainfall, are felt at more local scale. There are regional variations in the rate of change, such as the higher rates of ocean temperature increase found in the Arctic region. These localised effects can trigger changes in other regions, as for example when losses of Arctic sea ice affect the position and strength of strong winds such as the polar vortex and the jet stream, which may then cause extreme weather at mid-latitudes. Changes in sea-level rise and in the frequency and intensity of the strongest storms are expected to impact lower-lying regions in OSPAR countries more significantly. The eventual climate risk, a combination of vulnerability and exposure, emerges on a much more local scale, requiring a national response. While OSPAR does not yet have agreed indicators that would allow regional assessment of climate change effects, there is a broad body of knowledge about climate change in the North Atlantic that provides evidence of effects including warming-related species distribution shifts, altered trophic interactions, changes to productivity, and sea level rise.

Ocean acidification puts marine ecosystems at further risk

Ocean acidification is occurring throughout the OSPAR Maritime Area, though the rate of change varies regionally. This acidification occurs because at least a quarter of the CO2 released into the atmosphere by human activities is being absorbed by the oceans, changing their carbon chemistry through an increase in acidity and reduced availability of carbonate ions. This change in the prevailing chemical environment affects marine organisms, with direct effects especially for calcareous habitats and calcifying organisms, and indirect consequences for entire marine ecosystems. Policy responses to combat ocean acidification will need to be considered with care, especially where potential measures to address climate change could exacerbate ocean acidification. For example, the potential leakage from carbon dioxide storage sites or approaches that aim to increase ocean uptake of atmospheric CO2, such as iron fertilisation, could increase ocean acidification. Responses will also need to consider the cumulative impacts of climate change and ocean acidification and the knock-on effects for biodiversity, so as to avoid any unintended consequences of climate change mitigation.

What OSPAR is doing about it

OSPAR is implementing the 2030 North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy

In 2021, OSPAR Contracting Party ministers and the European Commission’s Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries agreed an ambitious new North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy (NEAES) that sets out OSPAR’s strategic and operational objectives for the period until the end of 2030. It describes how OSPAR will tackle the triple challenge facing the ocean: biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change. Its implementation is part of OSPAR’s contribution towards achieving the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals and the targets under the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Implementation of the OSPAR Strategy will address many of the issues highlighted in the QSR 2023. The evidence presented in the QSR 2023 will be used to inform a review of the Strategy in 2025 and to update it where necessary.

OSPAR is monitoring human activities and measures to mitigate their impacts

OSPAR has broadened the scope of its monitoring of human activities and their pressures and impacts, and of the measures taken in response to these. Collective OSPAR measures have delivered improvements. For example, there has been a significant decrease in litter on beaches in most OSPAR Regions, some species and habitats are recovering, and the OSPAR network of MPAs is expanding. OSPAR Contracting Parties also take national and international measures that contribute to the achievement of OSPAR’s objectives: an increasingly large proportion of commercial fish stocks is fished at levels consistent with Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), air pollution from shipping has decreased (although with increased discharges to water through exhaust gas cleaning systems as a result), as have incidents of oil pollution. For some activities (e.g. extraction of sand and gravel, aquaculture) management measures are well established, although gaps in knowledge remain. At the same time, these measures have not sufficiently reduced all significant pressures. For example, nitrate and phosphorous inputs from agriculture and wastewater remain a cause of eutrophication in some areas. Some aspects of the ecosystem are also negatively affected by fisheries, including incidental by-catch impacting threatened and declining species and pressures from bottom trawling impacting benthic communities. Also, steps taken to reduce shipping noise have not had a significant effect on noise levels to date. In some cases, such as the large projected increase in offshore renewable energy, the development of management measures and assessment of their success, as well as the analysis of cumulative impacts, is relatively new. Judging the effectiveness of management measures (in terms of reducing environmental pressures and being cost-effective) requires assessment over many years and a well-balanced approach to cumulative assessment, and this will remain an important area in which to develop OSPAR capacity in the future.

Human Activities monitored under OSPAR with links to data

Offshore Renewable Energy Dumping and Placement of Wastes or Other Matter at Sea (Dredged Material)

Encounters with Dumped Chemical and Conventional Munitions    Noise    Marine Litter Beach Monitoring

Fishing for Litter    Litter ingested by Sea Turtles

Seabed Litter    Plastic Particles in the Stomachs of Seabirds

OSPAR supports national pollutant regulations and measures to mitigate the impacts of human activity

Pollution regulations have been enacted across all Regions. Controls on pressures from shipping include regulations to limit nitrogen and sulphur emissions, oil pollution, release of ballast water and biofouling. There is now improved understanding and implementation of measures to mitigate the pollution pressures from aquaculture, including better modelling of impacts, and standards to limit escapes of farmed fish and sea lice infestation. Planned reforms to agricultural policy in OSPAR Contracting Parties build on existing measures and provide incentives to further reduce pollution pressures such as the release of nutrients leading to eutrophication as well as the release of pesticides. Many measures have been introduced to reduce plastic waste, including restrictions on some single-use plastic items and improvements in the management of fishing gear, new provisions for port reception facilities, and measures to tackle pollution from microplastics. Environmental assessment and permitting of offshore wind installations considers issues such as the siting of turbines (e.g. in relation to bird displacement and collision risk) and regulating construction and operational noise.

Salmon Lice © Wikimedia

Salmon Lice © Wikimedia

OSPAR is identifying species and habitats of concern and guiding strategic actions to safeguard them

OSPAR has identified priority species and habitats requiring urgent collective action in the “OSPAR List of Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats”. This includes nine marine bird species of particular concern within the North-East Atlantic, with recommendations for actions to be taken by Contracting Parties to protect and conserve them. Four marine mammal species have been listed as threatened or in decline in the OSPAR area and Recommendations to protect these species were adopted between 2010 and 2014. OSPAR has also listed and is tracking the status of two species of turtles, five species of invertebrates and 22 fish species. In addition, OSPAR has worked with other competent authorities to incorporate data on the status of commercial fish stocks. While OSPAR does not have a mandate to manage fisheries, it has a responsibility to assess the environmental effects of fisheries and works in cooperation with other competent bodies to comprehensively assess fish populations. Habitats have been classified and assessed as well. For instance, OSPAR-wide assessments of benthic habitats have been carried out relatively recently: 18 benthic habitats of concern have already been identified and are the focus of status assessments intended to improve understanding of the actions that need to be taken to protect or restore them. However, remote and deep-water habitats remain understudied and require additional monitoring and assessment in order to complete the picture for the OSPAR Maritime Area.

OSPAR is expanding the OSPAR MPA network

The 2003 OSPAR Recommendation to establish an ecologically coherent and well managed network of MPAs has catalysed an expanding network of marine protected areas (MPAs). By October of 2021, the OSPAR Network of MPAs numbered 583, including eight collectively designated in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ). Overall, the MPAs have a total surface area of 1 468 053 km2, covering 10,8% of the OSPAR Maritime Area. In all, 88% of the OSPAR MPAs have either full or partial management information in place. By designating more than 10% of marine and coastal waters as MPAs, OSPAR has achieved the spatial coverage component of Aichi Biodiversity target 11 of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and also Sustainable Development Goal 14, target 14.5, to conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020. OSPAR is also identifying barriers to the effective management of MPAs, and by 2024 will take steps to address them appropriately to enable all OSPAR MPAs to achieve their conservation objectives. Protected areas offer protection for the benthic habitats listed by OSPAR as being of particular concern, as well as threatened marine bird, mammal and turtle species. While OSPAR is progressing towards key metrics in terms of area-based protection, there are still gaps in geographic coverage (particularly in the OSPAR Arctic Waters Region) and in ecological coherence. OSPAR nonetheless stands committed to achieving the target of 30% MPA coverage by 2030 and will continue to work towards effective management of an eco-coherent network, as put forward in NEAES 2030 of 2021 and the CBD’s Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework of 2022.

Figure 2.9: Protecting Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction

Figure 2.9: Protecting Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction

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