EU Overseas - champions in marine and coastal protection

With 33% of national waters protected the EU Overseas spearhead efforts in global marine conservation

EU Overseas marine conservation efforts on a global map

The 25 European Union (EU) Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) and 9 Outermost Regions (ORs) are among the most precious assets to their six Member States and the EU: Strategically located in all the planet’s major oceans from the poles to the tropics they are surrounded by a vast marine area of 19 million square kilometres – more than 4 times the size of the EU. They are home to 70% of the EU’s biodiversity and unique ecosystems, including 20% of the world’s coral reefs and lagoons ecosystems.

As of September 2017, a total of 6.5 million square kilometres of the EU Overseas marine biodiversity and ecosystems are under protection, an area almost twice as big as the combined terrestrial and marine cover of their six Member States.

To put this in perspective: EU Overseas MPAs contribute almost 30% to the 22.9 million square kilometres (6.4%) of ocean globally protected (UNEP-WCMC and IUCN, September 2017), while covering little more than 5% of the world’s marine realm. By protecting 33% of their waters under national jurisdiction the European Overseas exceed global national marine protection levels (15.9%) as well as that of their six Member States (totalling 16.9%).

Coastal and marine protected areas in the EU Overseas increased more than six times since 2010, when it stood at little more than 5%, and nearly doubled since 2014. During the past 12 months 6.6 million square kilometres were added to the global marine protected areas network (UNEP-WCMC and IUCN, September 2017), almost half (3 million square kilometres) coming from EU Overseas MPAs. Following recent protection plan announcements the area under protection could reach over 60% by 2020 (12.2 million square kilometres) - far surpassing Aichi Target 11 and Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) of protecting at least 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020.

Already today, the combined 34 EU Overseas marine protection efforts are leading the way in the global marine conservation agenda: Five of the 10 largest marine protected areas on the planet reside in the EU Overseas waters – almost 6 million square kilometres. However, the majority of the 367 coastal and marine protected areas in the EU Overseas are smaller and located within a 3 nautical miles zone from the shoreline. This predominantly coastal protection is largely due to a lack of data from pelagic and deep sea ecosystems, as well as limited capacity to manage and enforce larger MPAs covering coastal and offshore areas.

EU Overseas coastal and marine protected areas

This is part of the outcome of a just released review prepared by IUCN and supported by the French Development Agency (AFD), which presents the first qualitative assessment of the marine and coastal conservation efforts of the EU Overseas, including geographic coverage, management, representativeness, resilience against invasive alien species, climate change and anthropogenic pressures as well as progress towards the achievement of international conservation objectives such as those of the Aichi Targets and Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) on Oceans.

With a global ocean coverage and combined marine protected area exceeding that of Europe and the US it is evident that the EU Overseas are champions in marine conservation and key players for global ocean governance.


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