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2016 Status Report on the OSPAR Network of Marine Protected Areas

Executive Summary

OSPAR Recommendation 2003/3 , amended by OSPAR Recommendation 2010/2 , on a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) sets out the goal of OSPAR Contracting Parties (CPs) to continue the establishment of the OSPAR Network of MPAs in the North-East Atlantic and to ensure that:

  1. by 2012 it is ecologically coherent, includes sites representative of all biogeographic regions in the OSPAR Maritime Area, and is consistent with the CBD target for effectively conserved marine and coastal ecological regions;
  2. by 2016 it is well managed (i.e. coherent management measures have been set up and are being implemented for such MPAs that have been designated up to 2010).

Full Report

This is the live dataset and represents the current status of OSPAR Marine Protected Areas Network and does not reflect that when the assessment was completed. Available via

This report aims to summarise the information made available by OSPAR CPs on their respective MPAs nominated to the OSPAR Commission and on this basis assess the progress towards overall status, management and ecological coherence of the OSPAR MPA network.

Since 2005, all 12 CPs bordering the North-East Atlantic have nominated sites to the OSPAR Network of MPAs in their national waters as well as collectively in Areas Beyond National jurisdiction (ABNJ). The contributions by CPs differ substantially regarding distribution of sites across coastal and offshore waters as well regarding overall coverage of their national waters by OSPAR MPAs.

By 1 October 2016, the OSPAR Network of MPAs comprised 448 MPAs, including 7 MPAs situated in ABNJ. Collectively, these sites have a total surface area of 806,472 km2 covering 5.9 % of the OSPAR Maritime Area.

Since the last Status Report in 2014, 35 MPAs with a surface area of more than 18,000 km2 were added to the OSPAR Network of MPAs. The new MPAs were nominated by the United Kingdom (25 MPAs), Spain (2 MPAs), Portugal (5 MPAs) and Norway (3 MPAs) – increasing the overall percentage covered by OSPAR MPAs from 5.8 % to 5.9 %. No additional MPAs were nominated in ABNJ.

The vast majority of OSPAR MPAs have been designated in territorial waters, which show a good overall coverage with 16.7 %. The area beyond the limits of national Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), i.e. the High Seas, the Area and the Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) areas, is covered by 8.9 % and the lowest coverage is found in EEZs where only 2.3 % are protected by OSPAR MPAs.

OSPAR Region II, the Greater North Sea, has an MPA coverage of 14.7 %. The Wider Atlantic (Region V) and the Celtic Seas (Region III) are represented with 8.3 % and 7.6 % coverage by OSPAR MPAs, respectively. While coverage of the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast (Region IV) is at 5.9 %, the Arctic Waters show the lowest coverage with only 1.9 % of the area being protected by OSPAR MPAs.

With respect to the assessment of the ecological coherence of the OSPAR Network of MPAs, it is important to bear in mind that the Madrid criteria were derived from the “three initial spatial tests” defined at the early stage of the development of the OSPAR MPA network. If the MPA network fails one of these tests then it cannot be considered as ecologically coherent.

Application of the Madrid Criteria to the OSPAR MPA network as it stood at the end of 2016 illustrates that whilst significant progress has been made in developing the network, it cannot yet be considered to be ecologically coherent across the OSPAR Area and further work is required to develop the way in which to the OSPAR MPA network is assessed for ecological coherence in time for the QSR 2021.

The assessment against Madrid Criterion A (a proximity analysis of MPAs as a surrogate for the OSPAR MPA network principle of connectivity) suggests that the OSPAR MPA network is nearing a well distributed network in OSPAR Regions II (North Sea) and III (Celtic Seas), but there remain significant gaps in OSPAR Regions I (Arctic) and V (Wider Atlantic) and a small gap further offshore in OSPAR Region IV (Bay of Biscay and The Iberian Coast). Future work should focus on addressing these geographical gaps where possible

The assessment against Madrid Criterion B (percentage coverage of MPAs across the Dinter biogeographic provinces) suggests that the target has been exceeded for three of the 19 provinces; all within the continental shelf and slope of the OSPAR Maritime Area and all within the Eastern Atlantic Temperate sub-region. A further five exceed 5 % total surface coverage (four within the Eastern Atlantic Temperate sub-region and one in the Atlantic deep-sea Region) and of these three exceed 9 % (all within the Eastern Atlantic sub-region). Four of provinces have no OSPAR MPAs and a further five have less than 1% surface coverage. These provinces are predominantly to the north of the OSPAR Maritime Area.

The assessment against Madrid Criterion C (protection of OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining species and habitats within OSPAR MPAs) suggests that 19 of the 54 OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining habitats and species whose recommendations include considering protection using MPAs are considered to be protected within more than one MPA in the OSPAR Region(s) they are considered to be under threat/subject to decline in. All OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining invertebrates, three of the seven birds, one of the two reptiles, one of the three marine mammals, five of the 22 fish and four of the 15 habitats are considered adequately protected within the MPA network.

Approximately two-thirds (61 %) of the OSPAR MPA network has full management information in place which is publicly documented, with a further 16 % of OSPAR MPAs having partial management information in place. The partial response is largely due to CPs updating conservation objectives or because work is ongoing to identify the management actions that may be required to address the known pressures and threats to the protected features of OSPAR MPAs. However, whilst there is progress on taking management action and implementing measures to achieve conservation objectives, such actions are only partially completed across the OSPAR Maritime Area; a similar picture emerged for the implementation of monitoring the ecological quality of the OSPAR MPAs. Consequently, the predominant response to whether OSPAR MPAs are moving towards their conservation objectives is ‘unknown’ and only 11 % are moving towards or have achieved their conservation objectives. This is largely because site-specific data on the ecological status of the protected features of OSPAR MPAs are not available. The overall conclusion from this chapter therefore is that the OSPAR MPA network cannot be considered to be ‘well-managed’ at the end of 2016.

It is important to note that in many cases there remain institutional barriers and resourcing issues to the implementation and evaluation of effective management measures for MPAs across the OSPAR Maritime Area; this was cited as a primary reason for limited progress by many Contracting Parties, as well as the infancy of many of the OSPAR MPAs.

Future work should focus on implementing the management measures considered necessary to achieve the conservation objectives of the protected features of OSPAR MPAs. In parallel, there is a need for long-term monitoring programs to be established that evaluate the effectiveness of such management measures to conclude with greater confidence whether the conservation objectives of the protected features of OSPAR MPAs are being achieved. In addition, work should progress on improving methods of evaluating the degree to which the OSPAR MPA network is well-managed to support a more sophisticated assessment as to whether or not the OSPAR MPA network is delivering a genuine conservation benefit to targeted habitats, species and ecological processes.

For OSPAR MPAs in ABNJ, there should be continued effort to further the collective arrangements and Memorandums of Understanding with relevant competent management authorities so that they can consider appropriate management actions to help deliver the conservation objectives for OSPAR MPAs in ABNJ. Contracting Parties should continue to raise awareness of OSPAR MPAs in ABNJ with relevant stakeholders and interest groups and look to further our scientific understanding of these sites.