SAMS news room

The marine definition to ecosystem approach

In 2008 the European Union adopted the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) with the aim of improving the environmental health of Europe’s regional seas by 2020. The policy set out strict deadlines and targets that EU member states have to meet while applying an “ecosystem approach to marine management”. But until now, there has been no unambiguous definition of what that entails.

Though there had been much talk and academic debate on the meaning and application of an ecosystem approach, the concept remained shrouded in fuzziness. Yet this week, almost four years on, the KnowSeas project publishes a report to remedy the situation.

The report, “The Ecosystem Approach in Marine Management”, defines the ecosystem approach and puts it into context by describing the challenges of applying it across Europe’s seas. Moreover it explains the role of Marine Spatial Planning (a tool that brings together multiple users of the ocean to make informed and coordinated decisions about how to use marine resources sustainably), while stressing the importance of adaptive management (a flexible approach to cope with the scientific uncertainty of natural systems), and assessing the main challenges that marine managers are likely to face when trying to meet the goal of Good Environmental Status – the basis of the MSFD.

Andrew Farmer, Director of Research at the Institute for European Environmental Policy and lead author of the report, believes "this report will help lead the way towards a better future for management of Europe's Seas with positive results for both the environment and for people". It will be a reference manual for marine environment managers and sets the European standard for a common understanding of the Ecosystem Approach.

The KnowSeas project is a consortium of 32 partners from 15 countries led by SAMS. KnowSeas is funded by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme with a grant of almost 7.5m.

A full copy of the report can be accessed online:

For more information, please contact Andrew Farmer by email

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