MSFD and the „good environmental Status”


The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is a European body of rules for protection of the seas. The paramount aim of this guideline, which came into force in 2008, is to reach the “good environmental status” in European seas. But what is the good environmental status? The guideline defines 11 topics – the descriptors, which have to be considered for the evaluation of the environmental status:

  • D1        Biodiversity
  • D2        Non-indigenous species    
  • D3        Condition of the populations of commercial fish and shellfish species      
  • D4        Food webs        
  • D5        Eutrophication      
  • D6        Sea floor integrity      
  • D7        Hydrographical conditions        
  • D8        Contaminants
  • D9        Contaminants in seafood    
  • D10      Marine litter
  • D11      Introduction of energy (including underwater noise)

One merit of the MSFD is to cover also new topics such as underwater noise and marine litter. Mentioning these topics in the list of MSFD descriptors has promoted them on a common level with well-known environmental topics such as eutrophication. Other prerequisites of this guideline are the ecosystem approach and the integrated assessment of the environment. This means that different input data are combined in a way that they ideally lead to one single response which describes the environmental status.

In contrast to the related Water Framework directive the MSFD goes without a multi class system. It focusses on the difference between “good” and “not good” for description of the environmental status. The process of the integrated approach remains mostly open. However, this is indeed intended by the MSFD. The development of the detailed procedure is delegated to the international conventions and to the member states. The task of Germany is the implementation of the MSFD for their territory in North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The timeline for this aim is quite concrete and implies steps such as initial assessment, definition of targets and indicators as well as definition and performance of monitoring programs and measures. In the year 2020 the good environmental status shall be achieved in all German seas.

Experts from the Thünen Institute are intimately involved in this process: They collect data, perform research, develop indicators and threshold levels as well as integration concepts. With these actions the national duties for the implementation of the MSFD are fulfilled. This big challenge will demand us in future years.

Along the way to integrated assessment

How can the numerous and diverse data from environmental monitoring be fitted into a comprehensive assessment scheme? The MSFD defines the target – the good environmental status in European sea before 2020 – and specifies conditions to be considered, however the procedure leading from the data to the integration is left open.

It is still challenging to bring the data into an ecosystem based integrated concept. Leading experts meet in international groups and discuss this question. Thünen experts are closely involved in this process. Most of the strategies developed so far include kind of threshold values to describe the boundaries of the good environmental status. In the Thünen Institute we work on improved strategies to calculate these threshold values.

The MSFD demands national status reports designed to fit into international integrated assessment concepts.  We are heading for this.

Thünen and the MSFD

We work on building up the parts necessary for the MSFD together with national as well with international colleagues. In the three Thünen Institutes for Sea Fisheries, Baltic Sea Fisheries and Fisheries Ecology we have experts for several of the 11 descriptors as well as for numerous MSFD-indicators. Therefore the collaboration between the three Thünen Institutes is here close.

Partly we collect respective monitoring data for more than 20 years. Therefore our scientists are highly esteemed in national and international expert committees. We work on threshold values for assessment of the environmental status as well as on development of reliable concepts for their calculation. We critically question the suitability of single indicators for integration procedure. We also develop new indicators based on our monitoring data if needed (Research projects MERIT –MSFD, NOAH). We propose own, risk-based integration strategies for single scopes. In a concrete case we developed a fish disease index (FDI) integrating different diseases and parasites in marine fish. We developed new indicators for fish populations and evaluated existing indicators.


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