“The Ecosystem Approach to the Marine Environment: Scientific background and challenges”, Dr. Panayiotis Panayiotidis

The Ecosystem Approach (EcAp) concept goes back to the beginning of the 90’s or even earlier. At those times it was mainly viewed as a novel tool for the scientific study – analysis of various ecosystems. The EcAp included a large number of theoretical issues and elements of modern biology, physics and chemistry such as: ecosystem theory, theory of chaos, non-linear systems theory, etc. Very quickly, though, management issues were also discussed and included in the EA. Today the EA is considered mainly as a management tool more than anything else. Based on a sound scientific knowledge of the ecosystem itself, the EcAp has incorporated and developed a large number of concepts regarding the management of human activities affecting the ecosystem.

Since its adoption in 2000 by the United Nationa Environmental Program (UNEP), the EcAp to the management of human activities is making its way through almost all Regional Sea convention programs. However, a broad discussion on how to implement the EcAp is still under way and is likely to be there for some time. The EcAp being a management tool should be applied in the framework of a marine strategy, which would set up a number of goals and objectives to be achieved. It is the main tool for the application of such a marine strategy at any level, including the regional one.

During the last 10 years a European Maritime Policy (EMP) is under development by the European Commission. Today the legal form of the EMP is the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD 2008/56/EC), which is based on the previous legal texts of the Habitat Directive (HD, 92/43/EEC) and Water Framework Directive (WFD, 2000/60/EC). The EU concluded that implementation of the MSFD through existing regional conventions would be essential. Hence, the contracting parties of the Barcelona Convention, which is the regional convention for the Mediterranean, are elaborating the Mediterranean Marine Strategy (see UNEP Decision IG.20/4). There is therefore a need for a more ‘regional’ application of the marine strategy.

Bearing in mind uncertainties about the combined impacts of measures to be introduced by the MSFD and about their potential costs for key economic sectors, a provision on compulsory impact assessments and cost-benefit analyses is needed at the regional level. The Marine Strategy is a very ambitious project and for the marine scientists the challenge is huge.