Learn more: Evolution and background of Marine Protected Areas

Astropecten aranciacusHistorically, protected areas have had a strong terrestrial component. In fact, the Spanish Coast Law limits its scope to the coastline marked by the equinoctial low tide, in other words, only land. The marine environment is not mentioned in the 1989 Spanish law on Protected Areas either, the first law that regulated and defined the different categories.

Currently, the European Commission fosters the protection of marine areas, in keeping with the Habitats Directive (92/43/CEE) and the Birds Directive (79/409/CEE). The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (9388/2/2007 – C6-0261/2007 – 2005/0211(COD)) includes the need to create new marine protected areas from an ecosystem perspective. In this sense, the Natura Network, which bases its decisions on scientific criteria, may constitute an opportunity to obtain acceptable representation of the marine environment and accelerate the adoption of measures on a global scale. This network must be managed through the development of and compliance to monitoring programmes of the state of ecosystems, as well as increased surveillance and the application of sanctions for infringements.

Spain has made the commitment to protect 10% of its waters under a protection designation before 2012, although the current rhythm makes it impossible to reach this percentage because less than 0.5% of its waters is currently protected. In fact, until 2008, marine protected areas existed only associated to land areas, like islands or coastline. “El Cachucho”, a seamount off the coast of Asturias, was the first marine protected area to be declared in Spain (March 2008). The figures are not encouraging in the rest of the world, either.

The current situation faced by marine areas is the product of the lack of knowledge that exists about them. As such, the first step should be the implementation of research and study projects. In this sense, Oceana has been working for years documenting and studying the seabeds of our coasts.