There is a great diversity of seabed habitats, with over 1.000 different habitat types identified across Europe’s regional seas. These vary from the coral reefs found in the cold, dark depths of the North-east Atlantic Ocean to the seagrass meadows found in coastal waters throughout Europe’s seas.
Seabed habitats are involved in a range of key ecological processes, which support the delivery of provisioning, regulating, and cultural ecosystem services. For example, seabed habitats produce plant and animal biomass through primary (e.g. photosynthesis) and secondary processes (e.g. grazing and predation); enable food‑web dynamics; enable species diversification and the creation of habitats and nursery/spawning grounds; and provide for erosion control and nutrient cycling. Seagrass habitats such as Posidonia oceanica meadows found in the Mediterranean Sea or Zostera marina found in the Baltic Sea and the Wadden Sea provide all these services.
Seabed habitats are impacted by a wide range of land- and sea-based human activities ranging from the effects of eutrophication in coastal areas or to extensive bottom trawling in off shore areas.
General outcomes of the regional assessments
Within the Greater North Sea and the Celtic Seas 86% of the assessed areas are physically disturbed, of which 58% is considered higher disturbance. Consistent fishing pressure occurs in 74% of all assessed areas, which is very likely to affect the ability of habitats to recover (OSPAR Commission, 2017).
In the Baltic Sea there is indication of good status in 29% of the open sea areas assessed (restricted to soft bottom habitats) while coastal areas show good status in 44% of the assessed region (Helsinki Commission, 2018).
Assessment of Mediterranean seabed habitats is mainly qualitative due to the lack of enough data and standardized monitoring for most of offshore habitats. This includes the lack of baseline data at the regional scale for many habitats exposed to abrasion by bottom-trawling fisheries. This has so far restricted the ability to identify a sustainable condition for habitats under continuously high-pressure levels. However, the extent of special habitats are under threat and in decline.
Outcomes from the MSFD assessments
In 2018, Member States had to update the Good Environmental Status (GES) assessments performed under Marine Strategy Framework Directive Article 8. The present dashboard displays the overall status reported by countries for the features, where the results show which is the percentage of assessments where GES has been achieved, not achieved or is unknown or not assessed.
- OSPAR Commission, 2017, OSPAR Intermediate Assessment 2017 Extent of Physical Damage to Predominant and Special Habitats
- Helsinki Commission, 2018, State of the Baltic Sea - Second HELCOM Holistic assessment 2011-2016., Baltic Sea Environment Proceedings No. 155, Helsinki Commission, Helsinki, Finland