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Recreation and Tourism in the North-East Atlantic

Executive Summary

Recreation and tourism is an activity taking place on and along the North-East Atlantic Ocean. This is a relevant activity both because of its economic relevance and because of its dependence on the marine ecosystem. However, since the activity does not have a separate NACE code, it was not yet possible to collect relevant data in a uniform matter. Therefore, this report aimed to collect economic information on this sector, but also its associated pressures and impacts on the marine environment. The geopolitical focus of this report lies on the North-East Atlantic Ocean, the OSPAR Maritime Area, thus OSPAR Contracting Parties which have access to the sea were assessed.

Trends and Economic Size

To get an idea of the economic size of this sector, public information available was collected. Most recent numbers of Gross Value Added (GVA) and employment in Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) were summarised in a Table. In all OSPAR regions recreation and tourism activities were increasing continuously within the last ten years. Especially contracting parties located in the Greater North Sea and the Bay of Biscay showed a big increase in international tourist arrivals, but also Regions with relatively low tourist arrivals (Arctic Waters and Wider Atlantic) tourism is on the rise. The numbers shown in Table xx show national numbers with a focus on coastal areas. Within countries there are considerable variations on a regional and local level as the activity is often spatially concentrated in certain places. These numbers are to be treated with caution, as the Contracting Parties arrived at these numbers through different methods. However, this overview still helps to present an overview of the economic size of this sector. It is expected that the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe early 2020 will have considerable effect on this sector. To what extent, however, is still difficult to predict.


Km of coastline



Year(s) of reference




€ 335,814 million €

27,000 FTE

2007, 2013

Belgische Staat, 2018


4.605 (Baltic and North Sea)

DKK 16,491(Approx. € 2,215)

32,537 FTE


Nielsen, Zhang, & Javakhishvili-Larsen, 2019



€ 558 million

16,000 FTE


Hynes, Aymelek, Corless, & Evers, 2018



Approx. £4,5 billion (€ 5,49 billion)

Approx. 200 000

2016, 2012

Coastal Communities Fund, 2016; Beatty, Fothergill, & Gore, 2014






INE, 2016



€ 2,654 million

30,000 FTE

2010, 2014

Statistics Netherlands, 2016


28.953 (without islands)

NOK 45,4 billion (€ 4,88 billion



Statistics Norway

France: Eastern Channel North Sea Basin



23% of all coastal tourism jobs located here


Direction interregionale de la Mer, 2019

France: North Atlantic Western Channel Sea Basin



40,458 jobs depending on coastal tourism


Ministère de la Transition écologique et solidaire, 2019

France: South Atlantic Sea Basin



29,400 jobs in tourism (representing 60% of the maritime economy)


Direction interrégionale de la mer Sud-Atlantique, 2019



51,351.6 Mi € in Total Spain, around 22% in Spanish Atlantic Arc

900,000 total Spain; around 22% in Spanish Atlantic Arc


Fernandez-Macho, et al., 2015


13.500 (Baltic and North Sea)

SEK 95.1 billion

165 400


Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, 2016

Germany: Schleswig-Holstein

total German North Sea coast: 1.515

Gross revenue: € 9,5 billion

89.266 (in hospitality)


Tourismusverband Schelswig-Holstein, 2019

Germany: Lower Saxony

€ 8.1 billion

226.000 direct employees


Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Wirtschaft, Arbeit und Verkehr, 2017

Table 1:  Economic Importance of tourism for OSPAR Contracting Parties


Pressure and Impact

A wide range of recreation and tourism activities are taking place along the North-East Atlantic, all exerting different kind of pressures on the coastal and marine environment. The activities assessed included recreational boating, recreational fishing, marine wildlife watching, general beach recreation and tourism and cruise tourism. To varying degrees these activities are contributing to physical disturbance, physical damage, and physical loss. Furthermore, some contribute through various pollution-types to contamination by hazardous substances, nutrient and organic matter enrichment. Also, some activities are contributing to biological disturbance by the introduction of invasive species.



Currently, OSPAR has no direct measures addressing the pressures and impacts exerted by recreation and tourism per se but has many initiatives which can be indirectly linked to it (e.g. marine litter action plans). As most OSPAR Contracting Parties are also Member States of the European Union, EU legislations were also addressed. The most relevant EU measures, which can be directly or indirectly linked to the recreation and tourism sector are the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, Bids and Habitat Directive (Natura 2000), Bathing Water Directive, Urban Waste Water Directive, Marine Spatial Planning Directive. Also, the Single Use Plastic Directive will get into force by 2021, contributing to the efforts to reduce marine litter.

This assessment of tourism and recreational activities has been prepared by the Netherlands in its capacity ad a Contracting Party of the OSPAR Convention. It is a contribution to the series of assessments of human activities under OSPAR’s Joint Assessment and Monitoring Programme (JAMP b14). As such, this assessment provides the basis for a feeder report on tourism and recreational activities that will be issued in the course as an OSPAR publication.

The first purpose is to assess the extent, intensity, and changes within the activity. Secondly, the effect of the activity – in terms of pressures and impacts - on the marine environment is described. This assessment will then enable OSPAR to take a view on whether further action is required and, if so, whether there is a need for OSPAR measures.

This section will give a brief introduction into OSPAR maritime area and its sub-regions. A short overview of the characteristics of each sub-region will be presented. The details on developments on tourism and recreation in each sub-region will be presented in Section X.Y.

The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, shortly the OSPAR Convention, is dedicated to identify potential threats in the North-East Atlantic Ocean and organises projects and measures to combat these threats on a collective and national level. It assesses the status of the marine environment based on internationally set goals and commitments by the participating governments. The OSPAR Commission is a key actor in helping governments to cooperate on a regional level. OSPAR’s goals are described in their North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy (NEAES), which is divided into five sub-strategies that address different threats to the marine environment. The strategy is currently reviewed and updated. Beside these sub-strategies, there is also one Joint Assessment Monitoring Programme (JAMP), which guides the preparation of integrated environmental assessments.

The North-East Atlantic can be subdivided in six regional seas, seen in Figure 1. The sub-regions will shortly be introduced:

  • Region I: Arctic Waters
  • Region II: Greater North Sea
  • Region III: Celtic Seas
  • Region IV: Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast
  • Region V: Wider Atlantic

Figure 1: The North-East Atlantic; Source: OSPAR Commission 2020

Region I: Arctic Waters

The Arctic Waters is the most northerly OSPAR region, characterised by its harsh climate and ice coverage. However, ecosystems of this region are still rich. Furthermore, this region is very low in population density, resulting in relatively small impacts of human activities. However, the recreation and tourism industry in this region is growing rapidly (OSPAR Commission, 2020).

Region II: Greater North Sea

The Greater North Sea is surrounded by densely populated, highly industrialised countries and is one of the busiest maritime areas, where coastal zones are used intensively for recreation.

It is situated on the continental shelf of north-west Europe. It comprises various marine landscapes including fjords, estuaries, sandbanks, bays, or intertidal mudflats. climate that is strongly influenced by the inflow of oceanic water from the Atlantic Ocean and by the large-scale westerly air circulation which frequently contains low pressure system. Extreme weather conditions have a direct impact on hydrography, which is characterised by water exchange with surrounding ocean areas, and strong tides. Furthermore, the Greater North Sea is rich and complex in biological systems, ranging from a variety of fish, birds, and marine mammal species (OSPAR Commission, 2020).

Region III: Celtic Sea

The Celtic Seas region contains wide variations in coastal topography, from fjordic sea lochs, to sand dunes, bays, estuaries and numerous sandy beaches. The large range of habitats in the region supports a diverse fish fauna. Although traditional maritime activities, such as fishing, take place in the Celtic Seas, there is ongoing development of tourism.

The current trend in tourism and recreation towards a diverse range of more individual pursuits (such as angling and surfing) on less developed parts of the coast can result in new pressures on natural habitats and water quality (OSPAR Commission, 2020).

Region IV: Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

The Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Coast extends from the coastlines of France, Portugal, and Spain. In this region, remarkable topographic features such as seamounts, banks and submarine canyons can be found. Furthermore, the coastline is highly diversified with estuaries, rias, and wetlands, which all support productive ecosystems.

The climate is strongly influenced by the inflow of oceanic water from the Atlantic Ocean and regularly large storms are occurring. The coastal strip has an increasing high population density and one of the main human activities in the region includes tourism (OSPAR Commission, 2020).

Region V: Wider Atlantic

Region V represents the deep waters of the North-East Atlantic, where human population in the region is restricted to the Azores Archipelago. Tourism is of considerable importance to the economy of the Azores. The growth of the cruise industry has resulted in a considerable increase in the size of cruise ships crossing the region and also inshore activities like whale-watching has increased (OSPAR Commission, 2020).

The JAMP B14 project is a project aiming to conduct a thematic assessment of human activities causing pressures on the marine environment. The objective is to assess the extent and intensity of human activities, and their socio-economic drivers, contributing to the key pressures on the marine environment in the OSPAR maritime area. The foreseen output is a description of human activities with significant marine effects per OSPAR region, presenting information on scale and distribution of activity, economic value, trends, and measures to reduce potential impacts.

Next to human activities like the extraction of living resources and transport, tourism and leisure activities was identified as an activity with potential impacts on the marine environment.

Maritime activities are important for the economies of the OSPAR Contracting Parties in terms of gross value added and employment. However, the consequences of these activities for the marine ecosystem can lead to direct costs for society, like loss in revenue from the tourism industry or the degradation of cultural heritage. On the other hand, many activities directly depend on a good condition of marine waters.

In 2018, Europe accounted for a 51% global share in international tourist arrivals, making it the world's most popular destination for tourists (World Tourism Organization, 2019). In the same year, half of the European tourist accommodation establishments were located in coastal areas (European Commission, 2020). Furthermore, in coastal areas tourism and recreational activities are growing substantially faster than other human activities (ECORYS, 2013). It was expected that tourism would grow further in 2020, however, the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe has put this industry under severe pressure. On one hand there are fewer bookings for tourism services, whereas on the other also “the industry is flooded with claims for refunds on cancellations and the non-performance of services” (European Commission, 2020, S. 105). Even though the European Commission and Member States are trying to mitigate the effects, the eventual economic impact remains to be seen.

Recreation and tourist activities fall under the category of human activities relevant for coastal areas. Tourism, as defined by the World Tourism Organization (World Tourism Organisation, 2020), is “a social, cultural and economic phenomenon which entails the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment for personal or business/professional purposes (...)”. According to International Recommendations for Tourism Statistics by the UN, a visitor “is a traveller taking a trip to a main destination outside his/her usual environment, for less than a year, for any main purpose (…) other than to be employed by a resident entity in the country or place visited. These trips taken by visitors qualify as tourism trips. Tourism refers to the activity of visitors” (United Nations, 2008, S. 10). Furthermore, “[a] visitor (…) is classified as a tourist (or overnight visitor) if his/her trip includes an overnight stay, or as a same-day visitor (or excursionist) otherwise (United Nations, 2008, S. 10).

Coastal tourism includes the full range of tourism that takes place in coastal zones and coastal waters, including the supporting infrastructure. When we consider ocean-based tourism like yacht cruising we can speak of maritime tourism, which is a closely related concept (Miller & Auyong, 1991). Another definition for coastal and maritime tourism, given by ECORYS, is as the following:

“Maritime tourism covers tourism that is largely water-based rather than land-based (…) but includes the operation of landside facilities, manufacturing of equipment, and services necessary for this segment of tourism.

Coastal tourism covers beach-based recreation and tourism (…), and non-beach related land-based tourism in the coastal area (…), as well as the supplies and manufacturing industries associated to these activities.“ (ECORYS, 2013, S. 12).

Generally, the majority of economic activities taking place at sea are not yet fully in line with the different nomenclatures. This applies also to the recreation and tourism sector on and along the North-East Atlantic. Since it is no standard economic sector according to the definitions and categorizations used by the statistic offices, it is difficult to arrive at an OSPAR comprehensive analysis of the economic importance on and along the North-East Atlantic on the basis of the available information.

By location

Coastal tourism

Covers tourism in the coastal area as well as the supplies and manufacturing industries associated to these activities.

Maritime Tourism

Covers tourism in the maritime area.

By subsector


Covers beach-based recreation and tourism (e.g. sun bathing, walking in the beach, kite competitions, etc.), and non-beach related land-based tourism in the coastal area (all other tourism and recreation activities that take place in the coastal area for which the proximity of the sea is a condition), as well as the supplies and manufacturing industries associated to these activities.


Covers tourism that is largely water-based rather than land-based (e.g. swimming, canoeing, surfing, wind-surfing, sport fishing, diving, snorkelling, underwater cultural heritage, whale watching, seabirds watching, boating, yachting, nautical sports, etc.), but includes also the operation of landside facilities, manufacturing of equipment, and services necessary for this segment of tourism.

Table 2: Composition of the coastal and maritime tourism sectors (s.Pro & Ecorys, 2018)

The aim of the report is threefold: First, it aims to provide an overview of the current trends of recreation and tourism on and along the North-East Atlantic Ocean in order to get an overview of the scope of this human activity. Secondly, various activities taking place in the OSPAR contracting parties are described. This description directly gives the basis for the third point, where environmental pressures and impacts are assessed.

One of OSPARs principles is the ecosystem approach, where an ecosystem is seen as a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environments. Ecosystem service can be defined as “benefits people derive from ecosystems”, where one can distinguish between provisioning, regulating or cultural services. Cultural services are seen as non-material benefits relating to cultural and amenity services, such as recreation and tourism (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Board, 2005). Tourism and recreation can be defined as a cultural service derived by an ecosystem. This approach can signal scarcity and quality of ecosystems, and also can help policy makers to assess trade-offs and synergies. Furthermore, it can help in coastal management and can increase social efficiency of decision-making processes (Horlings, et al., 2020).

The Netherlands. Horlings, et al. (2020) conducted an experimental monetary valuation of ecosystem services and assets in the Netherlands. For this, they used the System of Environmental Economic Accounting – Experimental Ecosystem Accounting, which was developed by the UN, et al. (2014). Coastal dunes and beaches in the Netherlands were the types of ecosystems with the highest values per hectare: the coastal areas of Zeeland, Zuid-Holland and Noord-Holland as well as the Wadden Islands (Horlings, et al., 2020).

Spain. For Cadiz in South-West Spain, a case study on coastal management by Alves and colleagues (2017) was conducted by using a social benefit analysis deriving from coastal ecosystems. The study applied the Travel Cost Method (a revealed preferences method) to assess the non-market value or three Atlantic beaches in Cadiz, located in the South West of Spain. The beaches assessed had different characteristics, namely a small artificial urban beach, an urban beach, and a semi-natural beach. The artificial urban beach experiences severe erosion, which makes regular investments necessary. On the other hand, the semi-natural beach had really low investments, but as it is semi-natural, the system naturally adjusts through its dynamics. The study showed that the management strategy costs are far lower than user’s valuation, which in turn means that investments made by local coastal managers are economically justified. Still, one has to take into account which type of visitors go to which beach. For example, the semi-natural beach would require investments into the conservation of its natural assets, as people go there for these. The study concluded that further investments are critical, if Cadiz would like to continue to attract beach visitors to the sites and thereby maintaining or increasing the city’s income from tourism and beach use (Alvas, Ballester, Rigall-I-Torrent, Ferreira, & Benavente, 2017). These findings show that non-market economic values (e.g. consumer surplus) are important components of the economic value, as they can represent the quality of life and leisure satisfaction rather than solely the on-site expenditure. In general, revealed preferences methods help to infer economic values from observed behaviour, are suited for the valuation of natural parks, are relatively cheap and quick to implement. However, these methods do not allow the assessment of income and jobs generated by the tourism and recreation sector and tends to overestimate the visitor’s willingness to pay (WTP) for sites.

Norway. On behalf of the Norwegian Environmental Agency, the economic value of ecosystem services in case of the Oslofjord were estimated given rough assumptions regarding the use of the fjord and the related values. The Oslofjord is located in the South of Norway and is the most visited Norwegian fjord. Based on the current data they found, outdoor recreation activities were the most valuable ecosystem service among the services they quantified. The recreational value along the Oslofjord for walking along the beach and coast, boating and swimming in the sea is estimated at 25.7 billion NOK annually when using the hourly alternative cost for working (median wage net taxes). An annual cost of about 2.7 billion NOK are spent on municipal waste water treatment, illustrating the minimum willingness to pay by the society to achieve good sanitary conditions. The estimated WTP for waste water treatment along the Oslofjord – that ensures outdoor recreational activities – is estimated at 4.3 NOK/year. Considering the operational and capital costs for recreational boating is 2.6. billion NOK/year, this confirms the large WTP to access leisure activities in the fjord (NIVA, NINA, Menon Economics, SSB, 2019).


The ICES WGRFS defines marine recreational fishing as “the capture or attempted capture of a living aquatic resources mainly for leisure and/or personal consumption (Hyder, et al., 2017, S. 11). Recreational anglers in the sea has important economic and social benefits, and can be an important source of income for national economies (Haab, Whitehead, & McConnell, 2001).

A study by the EU Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies for Fisheries tried to estimate the value of marine recreational fishing and its impact on fish stocks (Hyder, et al., 2017), summarised in Table XY.

Table 8: Estimation for production and employment for OSPAR countries with marine recreational fisheries; Source: EURecFish via Hyder, et al., 2017


Production (million euro)

Employment (FTEs)








































For OSPAR relevant is that the study also divided the whole European seas into sub-regions. The North Sea is the largest contributor to the economic activity of recreational fishing with 35%, whereas the North-Western and South-Western Atlantic waters contribute each 15%. Regarding the employment, a similar pattern was observed. Furthermore, their results show that the difference in economic impact of incremental spending in an economy by sea area was lowest with the North-Western Atlantic waters.

Table 9: Total production (A), GVA (B) and employment (C) by region; Source: EURecFish via Hyder, et al., 2017

  1. GVA (million euro)

North Sea (Region II)


North-Western Atlantic Waters (Region III)


South-Western Atlantic Waters (Region IV)


  1. Employment (FTEs)

North Sea (Region II)


North-Western Atlantic Waters (Region III)


South-Western Atlantic Waters (Region IV)



It should be noted that this study only offers a point estimate, as there were limited suitable time series available. An assessment of the impact of recreational fishing development is not possible without surveys on a regular basis. Even though there is a European legislative requirement in place since 2002, that says recreational catches have to be reported, there are only few estimates from some member states (Hyder, et al., 2017).

Figure 16: Economic distribution of recreational fisheries in Europe, Source: EURecFish via Hyder, et al., 2017

Recreational boating is a popular activity in Europe. According to interviews by Ecorys (2015) with the EBI around 6 million boats are owned in Europe and 36 million European citizens regularly participate in recreational boating activities. In terms of GVA, the EBI estimates for marinas and boating € 39 billion and approximately 280 000 people are directly employed in this sector. Furthermore, there are roughly 32 000 companies engaged in this industry, where over 95% are SMEs (EBI, personal communication, 2020).

Boat ownership patterns across Europe are rather diverse with Northern countries (Finland, Sweden, and Norway) showing high ownership ratios:

Table 10: Number of recreational boats in some OSPAR contracting parties; Source: ICOMIA, n.d.

Contracting party

Number of boats







The Netherlands











For the numbers in the above table, it is important to mention that the type and average length of boats differ between countries. However, most of the boats will be small boats (below 8m), especially in the Northern countries (EBI, personal communication, 2020).

Within the EU, key players for the recreational markets are Germany, France, UK, and the Netherlands. Whereas in Germany and UK an increase in boat import is prevalent, in France and the Netherlands confidence in recreational boating is declining steadily since 2009. Superyacht building on the other hand increased its reputation (Ecorys, 2015). After the economic crisis in 2008, European boat builders shifted their focus from the internal to the external market. Since the economic crisis, there was a downward trend of 40% in boat registrations within the EU (Ecorys, 2015). Furthermore, the demand trend is reflected in the boat owners age, as boat user demographics are changing. In the past 10 years, the average age of boat users changed from approximately 45 to 55, which shows that fewer younger boat owners came into the market. This can be explained by the economic crisis, lack of capital among younger people to buy recreational vessels and a shifting attitude towards owning a boat. As younger people do not gather experience in recreational boating, the chance is high that they will neither do it at a later stage (Ecorys, 2015). It should be noted, however, that younger people still participate in recreational boating, but are more interested in sharing concepts of various forms, as well as chartering a boat.

Table 11: Seaborne passengers embarked and disembarked in all ports (thousand passengers), 2014-2017, Source: Eurostat 2019












14 020



































































Netherlands (¹)














United Kingdom







Norway (²)







1Data exclude cruise passengers
2Data on international maritime passengers only

Cruise travelling, as defined by Ecorys, are “all activities associated to cruise holiday, including the ships used and the facilitations at destinations ports. Cruise tourism is a form of tourism where people travel (cruise) on a ship” (Ecorys, 2012, S. 9). After North America, Europeans are the ones most frequently travelling by cruise ships. Cruise tourism is the fastest growing tourism submarket, seeing an increase from 6.79 million to 7.17 million passengers between 2016-2018 (CLIA, 2018). One factor which is contributing to the increase of cruise tourism are the rising welfare levels (Ecorys, 2012).

Within the cruise industry, is a trend towards exploration destinations. Travelling by cruise ship gives the possibility to explore less-visited places that are sometimes solely accessible by boat. Such a place is for instance in polar regions (CLIA, 2019).

In the OSPAR Maritime Region, the three most popular passenger ports are Hamburg, Bergen and Lisbon in 2019 (Cruise Europe, 2020).

One of the critiques on cruise traveling its unsustainability in the way that it generates a lot of pollution, causes over-tourism, and only slightly contributes to local communities, as visitors stay shortly on the destination’s site. In terms of space, the cruise industry might compete with freight transporters in ports.

Figure 17: Ports for cruise ships in north-western Europe; Source: Cruise Europe, 2020

Recreational activities on beaches include activities like sunbathing, swimming but also walking kite- and windsurfing and so forth (Leewis, van Bodegom, Rozema, & Janssen, 2012).

Especially sandy beaches are a popular type of habitat on the coast, which as a consequence leads to a higher concentration of recreation activities when compared to other types of marine or coastal habitats (Defeo, et al., 2009). As many people and activities are concentrated in certain places, vegetation can be seriously harmed by trampling (Defeo, et al., 2009) and be more littered (Interwies, et al., 2013).

Baches offer various cultural services and have an especially significant value for recreation and tourism industry. The beach is offering cultural services and is has especially a significant value for the tourism industry. However, coastal erosion poses a significant threat to tourism services at the coast. This is not only a technical challenge, but also coastal managers face challenges to find a balance between the economic, social, and environmental aspects of beaches (Alexandrakis, Manasakis, & Kampanis, 2015). One of the possible measures to mitigate erosion is beach nourishment, which on one hand can reduce storm risks, but also create recreational benefit due to wider beaches (Phillips & Jones, 2006). However, beach nourishment may also exert environmental pressures, which is elaborated in the Pressure and Impact section.

To allocate a value to beaches could be useful for policy makers, who are interested in erosion management programmes, as these could be economically justified. Furthermore, the allocation of a value to the beach could contribute to territorial, urban and environmental planning in regions where the tourism industry faces structural problems (Riera, 2000).

The whale watching industry can be an essential source of income and employment for coastal communities and regions thus contributing to their tourism infrastructure. Taking an economic perspective, whale-watching can also be more profitable than whaling. However, if not managed properly it can have negative impacts on cetaceans (WDC, 2019). One of the most valuable ways to promote and manage successful wildlife ecotourism is through the establishment of MPAs. MPAs can attract tourists, which are putting special value in experiencing untouched environments.

Table 12: Extent of whale watching, Marine Protected Areas and sanctuaries on Atlantic islands; Source: Hoyt, (2005)

Island or archipelago

Whale watchers x 1000

Whale watch expenditure x millions US$

MPAs with cetaceans


Svalbard (Norway)

Low, inc.









Greenland (Denmark)





Faroe Islands (Denmark)





United Kingdom










Sylt (Germany)

Low, inc.




Azores (Portugal)





Madeira (Portugal)






Whale watching is a growing international industry, which was worth over 1.7 billion Euros in 2009. However, in 2009 Europe only accounted for 6% of global whale watchers. Excluding the Canary Islands, Scotland hosted the highest number of whale watchers in 2009, representing share of a 27% (O'Connor, Campbell, Cortez, & Knowles, 2009). In general, cetaceans are widely distributed in a range of habitats and are overall abundant throughout the OSPAR Maritime Area. It is estimated that more than 1.5 million individual cetaceans live in the Greater North Sea, Celtic Seas, and Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast (OSPAR Commission, 2017).

For Scotland in 2009, marine wildlife tourism was estimated to have an economic impact of £ 15 million, providing 633 FTE (International Centre for Tourism and Hospitality Research, 2010). Whale-watching is seen as an important component of marine wildlife tourism, where 23% of whale-watchers visited West Scotland particularly for whale-watching trips (Parsons, Warburton, & Woods-Ballard, 2010). A more recent study, focused on West-Scotland, showed that the whale-watching industry in an important source of employment and revenue for isolated coastal communities. However, the capacity of whale watching decreased by 17.3% between 2000 and 2015, even though whale-watching vessels increased. Also, the economic impact got significantly lower, where there was a drop from £ 11.8 million in 2000 to £ 6.5 million in 2015 (Ryan, et al., 2018).

Also, the Azores archipelago (Portugal), marine wildlife tourism has great potential for a combination of development and conservation. The Azores archipelago offers good conditions for wildlife watching close to the shoreline and has a great diversity of cetacean species (25 identified species close to shoreline), which shows in increasing whale watching and other marine wildlife activities. However, a study interviewing experts and stakeholders regarding whale-watching showed that there are different perceptions on the sustainability of whale-watching in the Azores. Some state that whale-watching has the potential to ensure economic and social sustainability and simultaneously protect these species. Others were more sceptical, and state that the activity is not sustainably anymore, as it– among other things – has a high ecological footprint, has certain unpredictability of sightings and that it is difficult to make it financially viable (Bentz, Dearden, & Calado, 2013).

Coastal and maritime tourism is dependent on good environmental conditions. Land- or maritime-based activities, which deteriorate the environment, can have also negative effects on the tourism sector itself.

Tourism and recreational activities can exert various pressures on the coastal and marine environment. Table X gives an overview of activities and their associated pressures and impacts, which are then more elaborated throughout this chapter.

Table 13: Tourism and recreational activities and associated pressures and impacts


Pressure and Impact (MSFD Annex II)

Population and tourism in coastal areas

Physical loss, physical damage, other physical disturbances, contamination by hazardous substances, nutrient and organic matter enrichment

Recreational fisheries

Biological disturbance, contamination by hazardous substances, other physical disturbance

Recreational boating

Biological disturbance, physical damage, other physical disturbances, biological disturbances

Cruise Ships

Physical loss, physical damage, other physical disturbance, biological disturbances,

Beach Tourism

Physical loss, physical damage, other physical disturbances, nutrient and organic matter enrichment, contamination by hazardous substances

Marine Wildlife Tourism

Biological disturbance, other physical disturbance

Although OSPAR countries are diverse, population densities are usually higher on the coast than inland as people tend to be concentrated in certain areas, more favourable for trade, marine industry, or recreation.

Coastal areas are not only popular among tourists, but by inhabitants in general. In 2011, 40.8% of the EU-27 population lived in coastal areas. The majority lived within 50km from the sea, whereas closer (5 and 15 km) wide disparities throughout the EU are prevalent (Eurostat, 2013).

Figure 18: Share of population in coastal regions living within 50 km from the coastline by NUTS3 regions; Source: Eurostat, 2013

In a study by Batista e Silva et al (2018), spatiotemporal patterns in Europe were analysed by using conventional datasets, namely Eurostat, and emerging big data sources like In the Figure below, one can clearly see that especially coastal areas are popular destinations among tourists and peak in the summer months. These, together with islands, are dominantly oriented towards beach tourism and so dependent on the prevalent climate conditions. Unfortunately, this study did not include the OSPAR regions Norway and Iceland.


Figure 19: Tourist density in EU-28 in August 2016; Source: Batista, et al. (2018)

Population growth in coastal zones can exert pressure on coastal ecosystems and natural resources through increased utilisation and pollution.

For the Mediterranean and for Baltic coastal sandy beaches, Gheskiere and colleagues (2005) showed that beaches, where tourism and recreation took place, the habitat experienced higher stress levels, showed lower diversity of benthic invertebrates (indicator for marine environmental quality) when compared to close untouched beaches (Gheskiere, Vincx, Weslawski, Scapini, & Degraer, 2005). Furthermore, beach tourists and recreationists contribute to marine litter, which will be discussed in section 4.5.

Tourism and recreation often demand facilities and infrastructure (e.g. for hotels, roads etc.) and thus require land. For this, soil gets sealed, which means that the ground is covered by an impermeable material. Soil sealing is one of the main causes of soil degradation in the EU (European Commission, 2012). In Figure 20, one can see that close to the coast imperviousness density is slightly higher. Soil sealing can especially be observed on the coasts of Portugal, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Also, some spots in France, the UK and Ireland show a high imperviousness density (EEA, 2020).


Figure 20: Imperviousness density in 2015; Source: EEA, 2020

The demand for land lead to strong alteration of the coastal front and resulted in the construction of many man-made structures. Such constructions offer a favourable condition for economic growth, but they also caused increasing severe coastal erosion (Taveira-Pinto, 2004). In the case of Portugal and Spain, the tourism boom in the 1960 and 1970 lead to uncontrolled urban expansion, where many natural areas were irreversibly transformed into artificial coast (Dias, Cearreta, Isla, & de Mahiques, 2013).

The ICES Working Group on the Effects of Extraction of Marine Sediments on the Marine Ecosystem (WGEXT) gathered information about the volume extracted from the sea by various OSPAR Contracting Parties. The volumes extracted in 2018 are listed in the Table below. The numbers below only include OSPAR relevant data, thus do not include HELCOM, Baltic or Mediterranean activities (ICES, 2019).

Table 14: Extraction for Beach Nourishment in OSPAR regions in comparison to Total Extraction in 2018; Source: ICES, 2019


Beach Nourishment (m3)

Share of Beach Replenishment (%)

Total volume extracted (m3)


988 000


3 795 000


3 731 213


5 742 576




3 676 703 4






148 682


169 242




63 500




23 000




421 820






12 374 401


24 583 921








137 951









United Kingdom

493 355


9 353 054


Whereas some OSPAR contracting parties had zero extractions for beach nourishment, countries like the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany used more than half. With an almost 90% of volume extracted for beach nourishment Germany holds the largest share. However, in terms of volumes, the Netherlands has the highest. What has to be noted here is that beach nourishment is not solely done for recreational purposes, but also for e.g. safety issues.

Beach nourishment is known to be an effective maintenance measure, but it can also exert various pressures on an ecosystem. For example, bird species can be affected by beach nourishments. To which extent they are affected depends on how the species interacts with the coast and the type of supplementation used. A distinction can be made between breeding birds and foraging birds. Foraging birds can sometimes move during nourishment activities to other locations, whereas breeding birds often do not have that possibility. Therefore, the chance is high that this leads to a loss of an entire breeding season, even if activities are limited to a few weeks (Jonkvorst, Gyimesi, Boudewijn, & Poot, 2013).

In the case of the Netherlands, Natuurlijk Veiligheid – a Dutch cooperation project – researched the effect of beach nourishment activities on benthic animals, fish, birds and the effect of sand drift on flora and fauna.

As an example, for birds they chose species which might be sensitive to beach nourishments. Birds that eat fish and occur mostly on the coastal zones outside of the breeding seasons are less affected by beach nourishment activities (e.g. cormorant). In contrast, the Kentish plover and Common ringed plover are birds that pick out their foods along the waterline. Both species are already strongly negatively influenced by recreational pressure. In addition to that, through beach nourishment activities food availability temporarily decreases due to the new layer of sand. As a consequence, the disappearance of a few breeding pairs can already lead unwanted effects. (Jonkvorst, Gyimesi, Boudewijn, & Poot, 2013). For compensation recreational activities could be limited on adjacent beaches, which however could lead to societal conflicts.

The development of coastal tourism leads to increased water demand (for human use, golf courses, swimming pools, air-conditioning, etc.), especially during the peak season in southern Europe (Portugal and Spain) when the water deficit can increase (Cazcarro, Hoekstra, & Chóliz, 2014). Therefore, scarcity of fresh water is a real challenge in certain parts of the OSPAR region.

The understanding of tourism’s indirect water requirements, like producing food, building materials or energy are still not enough understood, but is expected to be more substantial than direct water use. Gössling et al. (2012), estimated the direct water use per tourist per day, see Table 13.

Table 15: Water use categories and estimated use per tourist per day; Source: Gössling, et al. 2012

Water use category – direct

L per tourist per day





Water use category – indirect

L per tourist per day



Fossil fuels

750 (per 1000km by air/car)


2500 (per 1 L)



Total per tourist per day

Estimated range: 2000 - 7500


In general, the tourism industry could engage more into energy and water management to adapt to changing water availability and climate change to sustain the future of its own industry (Gössling, et al., 2012)

An important pressure coming from the leisure and tourism industry is golf. Golf courses are important consumers of herbicides, nitrates, and water, especially in the south where it is difficult for grass to grow without these inputs. Besides, golf courses represent the elimination of natural communities and their transformation into simpler ecosystems (OSPAR, 2008).

Eutrophication has been recognised over many years as one of the most important problems facing European coastal waters. However, it displays significant regional and seasonal variability. Within OSPAR maritime area, in 2017 the Greater North Sea had the largest surface area classified as a problem area or potential problem area with regard to eutrophication. Furthermore, extensive problem areas were also identified along the coast from Belgium to Denmark in the North Sea, and in Danish and Swedish waters in the Kattegat and Sound. Also, in the Celtic Seas many coastal waters were classified as problem areas and within the Bay of Biscay two areas were classified as problem areas (OSPAR, 2017). Increased discharges of sewage water due to the rising population levels during the summer caused by tourism could cause an additional deterioration in the waters’ trophic state.

Environmental degradation of marine waters by eutrophication can reduce enjoyment and opportunities for marine and coastal recreation. This may also reduce the appreciation of the existence value of the healthy and diverse coastal ecosystem (Heiskanen, Bonsdorff, & Joas, 2019). Therefore, by reducing eutrophication not only the quality of coastal and marine waters would be improved, but also may lead to better water recreation opportunities (Ahtiainen, Artell, Elmgren, Hasselström, & Hakansson, 2014)

Coastlines as a natural environment can provide a range of psychological benefits to their visitors (White, et al., 2010). However, litter can have potential negative effects on the environment and wildlife, but also on people and a state’s economy.

Tourism and recreational activities are considered to be one of the predominant sources of land-based litter on Europe’s coasts (Interwies, et al., 2013). Marine litter is considered to be harmful pollution, as animals living in the OSPAR Maritime area can get entangled, may ingest litter, or get injured (OSPAR, 2017).

Coastal regions, especially municipalities are directly impacted by the environmental, psychological, and economic burden of marine litter. On one hand, municipalities are responsible for the costs of keeping the beaches clean, whereas on the other hand litter can have consequence for local tourism and recreational activities but also on the ecosystem. Especially municipalities which’s coasts contribute substantially to the economy, litter costs can be considerable (Newman, Watkins, Farmer, Brink, & Schweitzer, 2015).

The Marine Conservation Society (MSC), a marine charity, is surveying litter across the UK. 30.4% percent of litter found was coming from the public, partly because people left their litter on beaches. Cigarette stubs was one of the most common litter types, finding 42.6 items per 100 meters (MSC, 2019). Furthermore, Nelms, et al. (2017) assessed data collected by the MSC for a decade on marine anthropogenic litter on British beaches. Plastic was the main component found, mostly coming from land-based sources like public littering. The Western English Channel and Celtic Sea showed the highest mean abundance of litter from both land and sea. The authors argue that this may be due the fact that it is a really busy shipping route, but also it represents a popular tourist destination.

Figure 21: Composition of marine litter according to main litter types for the period 2014-2015 in the OSPAR Maritime Area; Source: OSPAR, 2017

Especially the south west of England; as the region that attracts most domestic tourist within the UK (Smith, 2010). Another recent study by Nelms, et al. (2020), solely assessed the litter occurrence and distribution in English Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Again, the main type of litter was plastic, the highest mean was prevalent in the southwest. When comparing litter abundance inside and outside of the MPA, no difference was observed, meaning that more effective management strategies are needed.

Figure 22: Shore-based litter density occurring within English MPAs. Maps showing mean number of items m-1 min-1 person-1 for each MPA for: left: plastic; right: public Litter: Source: Nelms, et al. (2020)

A study by KIMO International revealed that tourist organisations find it important to keep a clean and high-quality coast for their tourism branding. This is because the coast is the initial reason why people visit the area, therefore is must stay attractive and free from litter. Besides harming the environment, litter also harms the reputation of tourism operators. Therefore, it was also in their interest to manage their beaches to a high standard (Mouat, Lozano, & Bateson, 2010).

A study by Williams et al, (2016) investigated the distribution of litter items along the coastline around Cadiz town, the Atlantic side of Andalusia. Similar to the above-mentioned studies in the UK, plastic litter was the most frequently occurring item. Whereas beaches with clean-ups are found to be in a relatively acceptable state – meaning little additional cleaning operations would already improve the situation – beaches with no clean-ups showed a high variety of litter items. Open coastlines had mainly recreational litter, whereas sheltered locations, like bays, were mostly polluted by industrial litter. However, some of the non-cleaned beaches also showed a high abundance of recreational litter. To manage litter in the future, the study stresses that there is a need for improved waste management facilities, beach user education and appropriate enforcement measures. As coastal tourism is an important economic activity in Cadiz and is directly dependent on a clean beach, it can be used as an incentive for the involved stakeholders to keep beaches clean (Williams, et al., 2016).

Besides the impact on the environment or the economy, litter in coastal environments also can have psychological effects on visitors. A study by Wyles and colleagues (2016) showed that when litter was present, the environment gave visitors less rest and were less popular. Furthermore, littered beaches were less frequently visited. Especially public-related litter was associated with the distribution of the visitors experience as it implies “disrespect for nature by other users, had physical risks associated with it, and was seen as belonging to the city” (Wyles K. , Pahl, Thomas, & Thompson, 2016, p. 1117). This shows that litter can strongly affect the positive implications of a clean, pristine coastal environment and therefore its recreational value.

Next to the economic costs and psychological and physical effects on humans, litter has the potential to shift the ecology of a marine system on the long term (Galloway, Cole, & Lewis, 2017). Such an alteration of the environment and shift in biodiversity might have unpredictable societal consequences (Worm, et al., 2006).

Costs of marine litter

To counteract litter, contracting parties also invest into awareness campaigns related to tourism. For example, the Belgian states current cost on measure related to land-based litter are € 36.000; including public awareness campaigns and clean-up events. The Belgium private sector spent € 15.000 on raising awareness about the prevention of discharges from fishing vessels and recreational boating in ports and € 12.000 in raising awareness related to waste management in marinas (Belgische Staat, 2018).

For the Netherlands, Ecorys (2012) estimated the cleaning costs for Dutch beaches. On average, on Dutch beaches there are 12 tonnes litter per kilometre beach. However, one should note that there is a high variety between beaches (3-50 tonnes per kilometre). This variety can be traced back to how intensive a beach is used for recreation. The more beach kilometre was used for recreation - meaning more visitors per kilometre – the bigger the amount of litter. However, the fraction of collected litter on recreation beaches is generally smaller, as they have a bigger share of waste bins. Next to that, the amount of litter is dependent on the ambition and attitude of the municipalities, what is clean enough? This has a direct effect on how often and how intense beaches will be cleaned (Ecorys, 2012). The costs for coastal municipalities in the Netherlands for keeping their beaches clean is between € 6.200 - € 48.000 per beach kilometre. This includes the costs for the waste containers management, beach cleaning, waste transport and waste processing. The estimated costs per tonnes of waste for Dutch coastal municipalities is between € 500 – € 3.200 per tonne of beach waste. Furthermore, intensively used recreation beaches demand more cleaning, meaning higher cleaning costs. For comparison, the intensive used beaches have approx. costs of € 204.000 annually, whereas extensive beaches solely spend € 89.000 per year. The total costs for Dutch coastal municipalities for removing beach litter is between € 3.7 – € 5.3 million per year. Approximately 70% of these costs are beach cleaning costs; the rest is spent through management of waste facilities and waste disposal. These costs exclude awareness campaigns around litter, monitoring and controlling. Also, the work of volunteers reduces these costs (Ecorys, 2012).

Cadiz in south-western Spain is a popular destination for sun, sea and sand tourism, where marine litter may negatively affect this industry. For keeping beaches clean, mostly beach cleaning operations, which are costly, are conducted. In 2014, the municipality of Cadiz invested € 1,2 million into beach cleanings and maintenance of infrastructure. For Cadiz, the main driver to keep beaches clean is the coastal tourism industry, as litter negatively affects it (Williams, Buitrago, Anfuso, Cervantes, & Botero, 2016) (Mcllgorm, Campbell, & Rule, 2011).

Besides beach cleans conducted by authoritative institutions, there are also various beach cleaning campaigns being arranged, where individuals are involved and volunteer to collect and dispose litter found on the shore. Besides the immediate benefit on the local environment, they appear to have a wider educational value as well (e.g. leading to higher pro-environmental intentions). This eventually could lead to further environmental benefits (Wyles J. , Pahl, Holland, & Thompson, 2016).

For recreational fishing in general, recreational biomass is not accounted for when advising for total allowable catch of fish stocks and is rarely reported or monitored. This could hinder sustainable management of fish stocks. Popular species, which are close to the coastal shore, could be at higher risk, as they a more easily accessible for recreational fishers. Next to exerting pressure and having an impact on fish stocks, recreational fishing has the potential to affect the marine environment as well (Hyder, et al., 2017). Also, the annual EU fishing regulation had tried for some years to manage the combined pressures of commercial and recreational fishing for the case of sea bass stocks in French, British and Dutch waters, as there are serious conflicts between commercial and recreational interests.

As recreational fishing mostly takes place on shore or from boats in coastal areas, the impacts are focused in littoral and nearshore zones. Furthermore, recreational fishing is normally not evenly spatially distributed which leads to some places receiving higher pressures (see e.g. Hunt et al., 2011, Cabanellas-Reboredo et al, 2014; McPhee, 2017). There are differences in fishing practices between countries, which may lead to varying pressures. Also, local pressures could have disproportionately bigger impacts in fish nursery or nesting areas (Hyder, et al., 2017).

In Hyde’s assessment, they rated the impacts as high, moderate, and low, which they based on scientific literature and expert opinion. Their assessment criteria were based on scale, reversibility, impact, management complexity and the ecosystems. Selected activities and the severity of their environmental consequences is shown in Table 14.

Table 16: Severity of environmental consequences of some activities associated with recreational fishing; Source: Hyder, et al. (2017)





Management complexity



Non-indigenous species







Lead fishing weights














General litter





















Benthic disturbance








Among other things, the use of live bait can pose problems, as non-indigenous species (NIS) can be introduced into ecosystems. Impacts associated with NIS are a decrease or genetic change of native species, an impact on soil and fauna and the potential to spread diseases and pathogens. This impact can affect the marine environment on a global scale. Many recreational anglers release their live baits into the water as they are not aware of the consequences (Kilian et al., 2012; Micael et al., 2016). Political initiatives, like the European Union Invasive Alien Species Regulation and the MSFD, promote the development of monitoring programmes to detect introductions of new NIS.

Another severe environmental impact from recreational fishing comes from losing lead sinkers and lures. As lead is a toxic heavy metal it can cause environmental contamination in the marine waters or get directly or indirectly ingested by birds and mammals (Hyder, et al., 2017). OSPAR is monitoring heavy metals across its maritime area, including lead. There are natural concentrations of heavy metals in waters, sediments, and species, called background concentrations. With the exception of the Irish and Scottish West Coast, lead concentrations in biota are above background concentration, but still below the European Commission’s maximum levels in foodstuffs. However, the OSPAR found that lead concentrations are declining in most of the assessed areas (OSPAR Commission, 2017).

In general litter thrown away by recreational fishermen, but also abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) can have impacts on the local marine environment (Macfadyen, Huntington, & Cappell, 2009). Next to the decrease in visual aesthetic, this eventually can lead to habitat degradation and ecological damage. Especially plastic litter was identified as a key threat to marine ecosystems, but also tourism revenue (Derraik, 2002; Andrady, 2011; Jang et al., 2014) (Hyder, et al., 2017). The problem of ALDFG is of transboundary nature, therefore regional and international cooperation is needed to prevent it.

Like recreational fishing, also recreational boating can exert various pressures on the environment, leading to various chemical, physical, and biological impacts. Fuel and combustion products and antifouling paints can be considered as having a chemical impact; the boats propeller can have physical impact by increased sediment and nutrient resuspension and increase erosion, which affects the marine fauna and flora. Furthermore, recreational boats can be a severe threat to seagrass habitats, indirectly impact coastal fish populations and might collide with cetaceans. On land, recreational boat wakes can threaten nesting shorebirds and their nests (Hyder, et al., 2017).

Recreational boating activities also can be responsible for the introduction of non-native species. In the case of the Didemnum vexillum – a high-impact, globally-invasive sea squirt – ICES considered recreational boating as being a high-risk vector for primary introduction and secondary spread of non-native ascidians. Within OSPAR, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Spain are affected, see Figure X. In general, such biofouling species create a range of complications: they are considered one of the primary issues affecting the marine aquaculture industry, can outgrow and out-compete other species and might also disturb spawning of Atlantic herring (McKenzie, et al., 2017). ICES highlights that by the disappearance of summer Arctic sea ice - as a consequence of climate change – may lead to an increased invasion of non-native species in the Arctic through more human developments (Ruiz & Hewitt, 2009).

Figure 23: Map showing invasive geographic range of Didemnum vexillum in Europe; Source: McKenzie, et al. 2017

Recreational boats and boats from recreational fishers also produce underwater noise, which can impact fish and other marine species. On one hand, such noise can cause physical damage (impact on hearing system), or disturb fish and other marine species, that are depending on sound for orientation, navigation, communication and the detection of predators, prey, and potential mates. However, it is still difficult to separate noise from recreational (fisher) boats and other anthropogenic noise sources like wind warms or marine traffic (Hyder, et al., 2017).

In environmental terms, cruise tourism creates various impacts. First of all, for destinations to serve as a cruise line destination, the natural environment has to be modified which leads to natural habitat loss. Furthermore, there can be impacts associated with operational energy, water and antifouling use, leading potentially to physical damage of marine ecosystems. Also, recreational activities can have an impact on wildlife through disturbance, littering, and exploitation (as gifts or out of curiosity). However, as the cruise tourism is a relatively unregulated activity, it is difficult to grasp the whole range of impacts (Brida, 2010). According to the Ocean Conservancy, a cruise ship with 3.000 passengers would have (The Ocean Conservancy, 2002):

  • 3800 m3 of ‚grey water‘ (wastewater from laundry, shower, sinks, etc.)
  • 800 m3 of sewage
  • 100 m3 of oily bilge water
  • Almost 0.5 m3 of hazardous or toxic waste
  • 50 tons of garbage and solid waste
  • Diesel exhaust emissions equivalent to several thousand automobiles
  • Large quantities of ballast water, which can introduce invasive species (a typical release of ballast water amounts to 1000 tons)

As the cruise industry experienced rapid development, some tourist destinations have implemented restrictions on the arrival of cruise passengers to cope with the large flux of tourists (European Commission, 2020). Regarding the environmental impact of cruise ships, the CLIA introduced various measures to reduce these impacts. A few examples are advanced waste water systems, in-situ recycling or new exhaust gas cleaning systems, that filter exhaust gases which can reduce dust particles (CLIA, 2020).

While whale-watching may provide socioeconomic benefits and potentially aid conservation, it can have negative impacts on the cetaceans. Parsons (2012) created a list of some examples of behavioural changes observed in cetacean species as a response to whale-watching traffic:

  • Surfacing/diving
  • “Active” behaviour, like tail slapping and beaching
  • Acoustic
  • Group size or cohesion
  • Swimming speed
  • Swimming direction
  • Altered feeding or resting

However, Parsons (2012) states that it is difficult to determine long-term effects of whale-watching traffic, but studies suggest that it might increase the animals’ energy expenditure, lead to chronic levels of stress (Orams, 2004) and may even lower reproductive rates (Beijder, Samuels, Whitehead, & Gales, 2006).

Offshore windfarms as interference

All coastal and marine tourism rely on particular experiences a site can offer, where often the scenery is more important than the activity itself. Especially this is the case for low-impact tourism, where the main attractions are the natural or cultural landscape (e.g. coastal villages, traditional harbours). The EU Renewable Energy Directive requires the EU to meet at least 20% of its total energy from renewables by 2020, meaning the offshore renewable energy is growing fast. In the context of recreation and tourism, offshore windfarms can pose a problem for coastal tourism on account of its aesthetic landscape impact (European MSP Platform, 2019). To illustrate the concern, two examples of OSPAR Contracting parties are given:

Netherlands. The development of offshore windfarms in the Netherlands may disturb the coastal tourism industry. In 2014, the Dutch cabinet agreed to build large-scale offshore wind farms close to the Dutch coast. However, the farms were planned closely to Netherland’s most popular beach resorts, (Zandvoort and Scheveningen). Some municipalities claimed that they would lose € 200 million and 6,000 local jobs due to the construction of offshore windfarms close to the coasts. If these scenarios would hold true is still under debate (European MSP Platform, 2019).

UK, Scotland. Golf is a popular activity taking place in Scotland. However, this activity may be disturbed by offshore-wind farms. A famous example is when Donald Trump, the current president of the United States, battled in court to stop the project of a 11-turbine wind farm in Aberdeen, as the wind farms would destroy the view and therefore also affect the Scottish tourism industry. In the end, the Scottish government won the case (Partlow, 2019).

OSPAR is committed to substantially reduce marine litter in the North-East Atlantic Ocean, so to reduce it to levels that do not harm the marine environment. Under its North East Atlantic Environment Strategy, OSPAR agreed in 2014 to the Regional Action Plan (RAP) for Marine Litter, where various actions are taking place between 2014-2021. In total, RAP contains 23 national actions and 32 collective actions. These include actions on reducing land- and sea-based litter sources, education and outreach programs, and clean-up actions. Next to specific actions, OSPAR also undertakes Litter Monitoring. This work supports on one hand the RAP, but also contributes to environmental reporting. Currently, OSPAR assesses beach litter, seabed litter and plastic particles in fulmar stomachs. As 2021 is approaching, OSPAR is currently in a period of review and reflection of RAP.

Under Annex 5 of the OSPAR Convention, OSPAR is dedicated to protect and conserve ecosystems and biological diversity of the OSPAR maritime area. On the basis of this Annex, OSPAR created a “Roadmap for the implementation of collective actions within the Recommendations for the protection and conservation of OSPAR listed Species and Habitats (POSH)”. OSPAR created a list of the various species and habitat to fulfil this commitment. Within this framework, OSPAR is working on communication and awareness campaigns, monitoring and assessment actions, MPA actions legislation (see below for further details) and legal protection, research and knowledge generation and it looks at pressures from various human activities. Currently, OSPAR does not directly address the leisure industry, however, indirectly by addressing other human activities related to the recreation and tourism sector. For instance, OSPAR is addressing topics like habitat destruction, harmful discharges, or noise pollution, which can be linked to tourism and recreation as well.

Next to RAP and POSH, OSPAR also addresses the issues of hazardous substances and eutrophication, which are both issues associated also with the recreation and tourism sector, even though to a lesser extent than other human activities at sea.

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) was launched in 2008 with the aim to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) for EU’s waters by 2020. This should ensure that resources - on which marine-related economic and social activities depend – are protected. GES should be reached by management measures applying the ecosystem approach. For achieving this goal, the Directive established European marine regions and sub-regions on the basis of geographical and environmental criteria. In 2017, the European Commission produced a set of methodological standards to help Member State to implement the MSFD and amendments in Annex III were made to better link ecosystems, anthropogenic pressures and impacts on the marine environment (European Commission, 2008) (European Commission, 2017). One of these regions is the North-East Atlantic Ocean – OSPAR maritime area. For the North-East Atlantic, OSPAR launched its North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy 2010-2020 (NEAES). This strategy focuses on the implementation of the Ecosystem Approach and five thematic strategies, like biodiversity and ecosystems (OSPAR, 2010).

According to the European Commission, Member States have made considerable efforts to develop their programmes of measures under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. In general, the MSFD improved the understanding of the linkage of human activities and its pressures and impacts. As a result, for example the Single use Plastics Directive was adopted. Furthermore, coordination between Member States was improved resulting in more coordinated objectives and targets. In June 2020, the European Commission published a report on the implementation of the MSFD with the conclusion that not all descriptors in EU waters will reach GES by 2020. This can be linked to

“the complexity of analysing and managing the marine environment and reporting on it, the lack of political will to adequately fund and enforce the necessary measures, or the lack of involvement of other economic and private sectors (apart from environmental public authorities).” (European Commission, 2020, S. 29)

As critical areas to strengthen the implementation of the MSFD, the European Commission stresses to level up the ambition and will of Member States, to ensure enough human and material resources and to streamline and simplify the implementation of the MSFD. The main pressures identified under the MSFD affecting the marine ecosystems are non-indigenous species, fishing, human-induced eutrophication, permanent alteration of hydrographical conditions, contaminants, marine litter and underwater noise (European Commission, 2020). All these pressures are also partly induced by the tourism and recreation industry.

However, the MSFD initiated Member States to act, which is shortly illustrated with the following two examples:

Marine litter. Within the EU, all Members States are taking, or plan to take, measures to tackle both land and sea-based litter. The most common measures are beach clean-ups, ‘fishing for litter’ and communication initiatives. Even though these measures have a modest impact in reducing pressures, they help to raise awareness and thus can potentially prevent future pollution. To give an illustration, the Netherlands had an initiative ‘Green Deals’ to reduce litter in the sea. One part of the initiative was the ‘Green Deal’ for cleaner beaches. The evaluation of the initiative showed that it helped to expand and strengthen the network, from which new initiatives or pilots could arise at the local level. Furthermore, information exchange between municipalities was strengthened (what worked? What did not work?). Also, there has been an increased awareness among stakeholders that cooperation is needed to achieve cleaner beaches. Lastly, more, and improved waste facilities were added (Wienhoven & Nijmeijer, 2019).

Recreational Fisheries. Most Member States have introduced new measures to reduce the pressure on over-exploited stocks, e.g. by requiring the use of specific fishing gear or by introducing temporal and spatial restrictions. Belgium, for example, has introduced a legal measure that makes it easier to monitor recreational fishing. This national measure goes beyond the requirements of the common fisheries policy and will improve data collection. This on one hand will give a better understanding of the state of fish stocks, but also to regulate certain fishing activities (Vlaams Parlement, 2017).

As there is a growing competition for maritime space, the European Parliament and the Council have launched a framework for maritime spatial planning, namely the Marine Spatial Planning Directive (Directive 2014/89/EU). By applying this framework, conflicts between sectors should be reduced, encourage investments, increase cross-border cooperation, and also protect the environment. To ensure the sustainable use of marine resources, marine spatial planning should apply the ecosystem approach. The deadline for implementation is 2021 (European Parliament; Council of the European Union, 2014).

Within this framework the Blue growth Strategy was launched in 2012, which is a long-term strategy aimed to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole (European Commission, 2012). One of the key sectors identified is coastal tourism. The strategy stresses member states to address cross-border challenges at the EU-level and promote cooperation, best practice sharing and strategic partnerships. The defined challenges are ‘performance and competitiveness (knowledge, demand volatility, sector fragmentation) ‘skills and innovation’, ‘sustainability’ (environmental pressures, innovative and high-quality offer, insularity and remoteness), and ‘available EU funding’ (European Structural and Investment Funds, research innovation and competitiveness, education, training and culture) (European Commission, 2014).

The European Commission wants to ensure that coastal and maritime tourism is included in other EU policies, like for instance IT connectivity or sustainable transport. Therefore, “cross-cutting policy aspects such as environmental protection, regional development, training, consumer protection and climate change mitigation and adaption policies will be considered” (European Commission, 2014, p.10). In this context, the European Commission highlights the macro-regional strategy for the Atlantic to promote a strong tourism economy and coordinate resources (European Commission, 2014).

The Bathing Water Directive (76/160/ECC) is a directive launched by the EU with the aim that bathing water sites are at least classified as ‘sufficient’. In 2018, 95.4% of all EU bathing water sites reached the minimum water quality standard, representing a slight decrease compared to 2017 with 96.0%. This increase can be explained by adding new bathing water sites, for which insufficient numbers of samples were yet been taken to classify the quality (3.2% unclassified bathing waters). The share of bathing water sites with excellent quality increased to 85.1% (83.3% in 2014), whereas the number of bathing water sites with poor quality decreased to 1.3% (1.4.% in 2017) (EEA, 2018). The improvement in bathing water quality can also be linked to the Urban Waste Water Directive (European Commission, 2019)

Figure 24: Percentage of coastal bathing waters in EU per compliance category; Source: EEA, 2015

For OSPAR, all contracting parties have a high share in coastal bathing sites with excellent water quality. However, some do still have sites with poor quality, namely the UK (3.3%), Ireland (2.9%), France (1.4%), Denmark (1.4%), Sweden (0.8%), Spain (0.5%) and Germany (0.5%) (EEA, 2018). The three contracting parties with the highest share of excellent quality are Belgium (97.6%), Portugal (94.4%) and Spain (92.2%).

Table 17: Coastal bathing water quality results in 2018 for OSPAR Contracting Parties; Source: EEA, 2018


Total number of bathing waters

Excellent quality

Good quality

Sufficient quality

Poor Quality









































1 965

1 812









2 041

1 632
















































United Kingdom










Discharges of urban wastewater are one of the most serious causes of the pollution of waters by eutrophication. Therefore, the Urban Waste Water Directive (Council Directive 91/271/ECC) was adopted in 1991 with the aim to protect the environment from negative effects of urban wastewater discharges. In 2019, the European Commission evaluated the directive and concluded that it indeed is very effective (European Commission, 2019). However, the European Commission also states that the directive has to be updated, as new issues like pollution through pharmaceuticals and microplastics is on the rise.

OSPAR contracting parties assess the eutrophication status of the North-East Atlantic in a harmonised manner at regular intervals.

As plastic has high functionality and is relatively cheap, its use is increasing, leading to big plastic waste generation and also leakage to the environment.

The Single Use Plastic Directive is part of the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular economy, which was adopted in 2018 and is aiming to transform the way plastic products are designed, used, produced, and recycled in the EU. By the approval of the European Parliament in 2019, single-use plastic items will be banned by of 2021. Therefore, single-use plastic items like cutlery and plates, plastic straws, cotton bud sticks, balloon sticks and oxo-degradable plastics and food containers and expanded polystyrene cups will be banned in the near future.

The European Parliament and Council stress especially the importance to reduce marine litter and highlight the problematic nature of single-use plastic – besides fishing gear – as posing a severe risk to marine ecosystems, biodiversity and human health (European Parliament, The Council, 2019).

To preserve the coast, contracting parties have been designating Natura 2000 sites under the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC) and Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC). All EU members that are OSPAR Contracting Parties have designated terrestrial and marine Natura 2000 sites. In the last QSR2010, terrestrial sites were much larger than marine sites. Within 10 years, a lot of new marine sites were added to the Natura 2000 network, especially by the UK, France, and Spain (in terms of km2). The data shows the status of the Natura 2000 network up until 2019, meaning that the UK is still included in the statistics (EEA, 2018).


Figure 26: Surface covered by Natura 2000 sites in km2 per Contracting Party; Source: EEA, 2018

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are “geographically distinct zones for which protection objectives are set. They constitute a globally connected system for safeguarding biodiversity and maintaining marine ecosystem health and the supply of ecosystem services.” (EEA, 2018, p. 1).

In an EU context, MPA were established under the Birds and Habitats Directives as part of the Natura 2000 network. Generally, the OSPAR Network of Marine Protected Areas aims to protect, conserve and restore species, habitats and ecological processes; prevent the degradation of these; and protect and conserve areas that best represent the range of species, habitats and ecological processes in the maritime area. According to OSPAR’s latest report in 2018, the OSPAR MPA network comprised of 496 MPAs. Together, OSPAR’s MPAs cover 864,337 km2 which is 6.4% of the OSPAR Maritime Area (OSPAR Commission, 2019).

Table 18: Absolute (km²) and the relative (%) coverage of the five OSPAR Regions by OSPAR MPAs (as of 1 October 2018); Source: OSPAR Commission, 2019

OSPAR Region

Total Area in km2

Protected Area by OSPAR MPAs

In km2

In %


Arctic Waters

5 529 716

107 109



Greater North Sea

766 624

142 489



Celtic Seas

366 459

56 167



Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast

539 152

32 076



Wider Atlantic

6 346 159

526 530



13 548 111

864 379



As tourism and recreational benefits are closely linked to the quality of the natural environment, well-managed MPA can play a role in reconciling economic development and ecosystem protection. Furthermore, MPAs can support the long-term sustainability of the marine and coastal tourism and recreation sector for OSPAR contracting parties (ECORYS, 2013).

Lyme Bay, UK. Lyme Bay, located in the UK – south west England - is a marine habitat important for conservation, hosting nationally uncommon species and is rich in biodiversity (Hiscock & Breckels, 2007) and a closed area was designated in 2008. Recreational activities like angling, scuba diving or wildlife watching stayed permitted in this closed area. All of these activities have in common that they make use of the natural marine resources which stem from biodiversity.

Rees and colleagues (2010) tried to estimate the value of biodiversity for the recreation and leisure industry in Lyme Bay – in monetary and non-monetary terms. As tourism and recreational benefits are closely linked to the quality of the natural environment, well-managed MPA can play a role in reconciling economic development and ecosystem protection. Furthermore, MPAs can support the long-term sustainability of the marine and coastal tourism and recreation sector for OSPAR contracting parties (ECORYS, 2013).

Lyme Bay, UK. Lyme Bay, located in the UK – south west England - is a marine habitat important for conservation, hosting nationally uncommon species and is rich in biodiversity (Hiscock & Breckels, 2007) and a closed area was designated in 2008. Recreational activities like angling, scuba diving or wildlife watching stayed permitted in this closed area. All of these activities have in common that they make use of the natural marine resources which stem from biodiversity.

Rees and colleagues (2010) tried to estimate the value of biodiversity for the recreation and leisure industry in Lyme Bay – in monetary and non-monetary terms.

For this, they developed questionnaires for different recreation groups, where recreation hotspots were defined as the non-market value. In monetary terms, the recreational activities combined are estimated to be worth £ 3 943 733 per year in the closed area of Lyme Bay. For the whole Lyme Bay, the authors estimate the marine leisure and recreation industry to be at least £ 17 million of expenditure/turnover annually. The allocation of a monetary value can be used as a tool to influence decision making processes (Rees, Rodwell, Attril, Austen, & Mangi, 2010). The non-monetary valuation – in this case recreation hotspots – is an additional tool to give insights into the relative value of sites for marine leisure and recreation activities. Such information can serve as input for stakeholder discussions on marine spatial planning and may economically justify conservation objectives.

Focusing on the same closed area of Lyme Bay – Gallacher, et al. (2016) evaluated the success of MPA in terms of biophysics, socioeconomics, and governance by an extensive literature review. The assessed literature shows that through the designation of a closed area, species have increased in abundance and biomass. This increase in turn had a positive impact on the quality of sea anglers and divers experience, which also strengthened the local economy. In terms of governance, shortly after the designation some conflicts with towed gear fishers were present. However, the conflicts declined over time through increased stakeholder involvement in the management process and the recognition of the importance of a closed area (Gallacher, et al., 2016).

Lundy Island, UK.  Another study focusing on the UK studied recreational benefits of an MPA around the Lundy Island. To estimate the non-market recreational benefits arising from Lundy Island a travel cost model was used.

Figure 27:A monetary and non-monetary valuation of recreation activity in the Lyme Bay closed area, showing (i) marine leisure and recreation hotspots in Lyme Bay closed area based on 1 km2 units; (ii) a monetary valuation of three most visited sites in Lyme Bay; (iii) the total estimated value of recreation activity in Lyme Bay closed area per group and aggregated (Rees, Rodwell, Attril, Austen, & Mangi, 2010).

This method is a revealed preference approach that is based on visitors Willingness To Pay (WTP), by relying on actual market data and human behaviour . The results of the study suggest that there can be considerable recreational benefits generated by MPAs, as the mean consumer surplus for visiting the island was found to be within the range of £359 to £574 per trip. Notably, the designation of a No Take Zone contributed to this higher consumer surplus value, which can offer a strong economic justification for the designation of MPAs for both recreational and conservation purposes (Chae, Wattage, & Pascoe, 2012).

According to Fletcher et al. (2014), there is clear evidence that the designation and management of MPAs can support nature-based tourism and can be therefore an important part of sustainable use of marine and coastal areas. What is apparent from a study by Potts, is that certain charismatic species (e.g. Atlantic salmon, bottlenose dolphin or common seal) in MPAs can play a key role in providing spiritual and cultural wellbeing, and tourism/nature watching (Potts, et al., 2014), which could strengthen MPAs from a conservation, but also societal and economic perspective.

In general, previous research so far suggests that MPAs can have a positive effect on recreation and tourism, whereas a negative effect on the recreation and tourism industry is hardly ever reported. However, it is still not possible to distinguish whether increased recreation and tourism results from environmental improvements through the MPA, or through a so-called ‘designation effect’, which increased the sites’ reputation. To ensure that recreational activities do not lead to environmental degradation in the MPA – which in turn could also lead to damage to the recreation and tourism industry itself – regulations might have to be put into place (European Commission, 2018). To finance management, enforcement and educational activities, using revenue and fees - which were generated from tourism in the MPA - could be used to help finance the management of MPAs and decrease the input from public funding (Gusmerotti, Marino, & Testa, 2013) (Russi, et al., 2016). In general, to improve recreational and tourism opportunities provided by MPAs, a better understanding of the relationship between user groups and MPAs is still needed (Russi, et al., 2016).

Recreation and tourism is a diverse activity, and therefore also exerts various different pressures and impacts on the marine environment. Currently, OSPAR does not directly address the recreation and tourism sector per se. However, OSPAR has a lot of other initiatives in place which can be indirectly linked to the pressures and impacts coming from this sector. These other thematic assessments include Underwater noise (ICG Noise), Marine litter (ICG ML), Cumulative effects (ICG C), Protection of species & habitats (ICG POSH) and Hazardous Substances and Eutrophication (HASEC). Via these other thematic initiatives, pressures and impacts from the recreation and tourism sector could be addressed to a certain extent.

As recreation and tourism is rather a local activity and spatially dispersed, it might be an idea to communicate best practices, share knowledge and expertise among the OSPAR Contracting Parties to reduce pressures and impacts. Within the marine litter issue, there might be potential for OSPAR to address the recreation and tourism sector more specifically. However, to what extent this will be necessary is uncertain in the light of the new EU Single Use Plastic Directive.

Key messages

  • Recreation and tourism was growing steadily the past 10 years on and along OSPAR Maritime Region and is an important economic activity
  • Recreational and tourism activities have significant pressure and impact on the coastal and marine environment
  • It is still a challenge to arrive at standardised data, both in terms of economics, but also in quantitative environmental information about its impact on marine and coastal ecosystems

Recreation and tourism is an important economic activity for OSPAR Contracting Parties. Since the last QSR in 2010, this sector was increasing steadily in all OSPAR Regions, however, with varying pace. Before the COVID-10 outbreak in early 2020, it was expected that this trend would continue till 2030. The sector is associated with environmental pressures and impacts on marine and coastal ecosystems, which are likewise varying between the OSPAR Regions.

Table 19: Regional Summary







Relative intensity






Trend since 2010

Forecast trend to 2030

Confidence assessment







Distribution and Intensity of Activity

Recreational and tourism activities are taking place in all OSPAR regions, however, with considerable differences. If one looks at the regional or local level, differences in distribution are visible, showing that recreational and tourism activities are rather dispersed. In general, however, common recreational activities like going to the beach, walking along the coast, recreational fishing and boating are distributed throughout the OSPAR maritime region.

Region II (47%) and Region IV (27%) are the regions with the highest share of tourist arrivals, followed by Region III (20%), I (6%) and V (>1%). All regions show a higher concentration of tourist and recreation activities along their coasts. In terms of type of tourism and recreation, great differences can be observed. For instance, recreational boating is highly popular in the Nordic countries, whereas the cruise industry boomed in Portugal, Norway, and Iceland.

Trends within the sector

In the past ten years – since QSR2010 - tourism grew continuously in all OSPAR maritime regions, reflecting the overall trend of tourism growth worldwide. However, some regions experienced stronger growth than others. Region I, II and IV experienced substantial growth, whereas Region III showed a slight downward trend at the end of this decade. Even though Region V has in absolute numbers a rather small share of tourist arrivals (less than 1% within OSPAR), tourism is increasing.

Estimations would suggest that marine and coastal tourism would continue growing the upcoming decade. However, with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Europe in February 2020, the tourism industry got hard hit – some sub-sectors more than others. Therefore, uncertainties pertain on how the aftermath of the pandemic will influence travel behaviour, and therefore tourism and recreational activities. It could nevertheless be that domestic holiday – “staycation” – could gain increased importance for the contracting parties. Furthermore, it may be that the crisis creates on opportunity for the already existing niche trends of ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco’ tourism.

Economic value

The economic sector of recreation and tourism is of relative important for OSPARs contracting parties. However, this economic activity has no separate NACE code, therefore it is more difficult to present relevant data in a uniform matter. Therefore, the numbers found should be treated with caution.

For comparison purposes, Table 18 was created, showing other economic activities within the OSPAR maritime region for selected OSPAR contracting parties. The numbers for the other sectors shown are taken from the OSPAR Intermediate Assessment 2017. By comparing the numbers, the importance of the recreation and tourism sector is getting visible. Especially in terms of employment (FTE), recreation and tourism shows a significant high number when compared to the other sectors. However, the importance of the sector varies per OSPAR contracting party and is of varying relevance throughout the OSPAR regions.

Table 19: Comparison of economic value of sectors within the OSPAR maritime region

Recreation and tourism

Fisheries and Aquaculture


GVA (million euro)


GVA (million euro)


GVA (million euro)


Netherlands (Region II)







Portugal (Region IV)







Denmark (Region II)

Approx. 2,215






Ireland (Region III)








Pressures and Impacts

The recreation and tourism sector is highly diverse, which directly translates into various forms of pressures and impacts. Recreation and tourism developments lead to physical loss and physical destruction of coastal habitats due to the construction of tourism facilities and infrastructure, both on land and sea. Furthermore, the sector contributes to various types of pollution (water, noise, litter), leading to contamination by hazardous substances, nutrient and organic matter enrichment, and physical disturbance. In addition to that, some sub-types of tourism can lead to biological disturbances, for instance by introducing invasive species.


Currently, OSPAR does not directly address the recreation and tourism sector within its work. However, it does address various pressures, which also can be associated with this sector. Via its Roadmap for Marine Litter, OSPAR is taking various measures to reduce the issue of marine litter in the North-East Atlantic. Furthermore, OSPAR addresses issues like eutrophication, hazardous substances, biological diversity and the protection of species and habitats. To reduce pressures and impacts from the recreation and tourism sector, OSPAR might could address them via other working areas.

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The report was written within the course of an internship at Rijkswaterstaat; supported by the help of several people. First of all, I would like to thank the team of the advisory board on economic analyses (Steuntpunt Econimische Expertise; SEE) of Rijkswaterstaat, who gave me general feedback on the report. Secondly, I want to thank all people from OSPAR ICG-ESA (Intersessional Correspondence Group of Economic & Social Analysis), who provided me information, suggestions, and feedback, which contributed to the quality of the report. Also, I would like to thank the members of the JAMP B14 project, which provided me with final feedback. Here, I would like to thank especially Philip Stamp from the OSPAR Secretary, who generally guided me in certain parts of the report and other parts of the internship. Lastly, I would like to give special thanks to my supervisor from Rijkswaterstaat, Rob van der Veeren. He guided me through the whole process of writing this report by sharing his knowledge and expertise with me. Also, he organised several meetings with interesting people from this field, which in turn resulted in a lot of input for this report. Overall, the internship has taught me a lot professionally and personally, not only about recreation, tourism, and its environmental impacts, but especially to work within a Dutch and international network.