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Understanding Dredging

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Marine Strategy Framework Directive



What is the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD)?

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD; 2008/56/EC ) constitutes the vital environmental component of the European Union's future maritime policy. It aims at protecting more effectively the marine environment across Europe while allowing the continuation of sustainable uses of the sea. 

MSFD’s objective is to achieve good environmental status (GES) of the EU's marine waters by 2020 and to protect the resource base upon which marine‐related economic and social activities depend.  The Directive does not propose what specific measures should be taken to achieve GES, except for a reference to the use of Marine Protected Areas. Instead, development of appropriate programmes of measures is left to Member States.

MSFD applies an ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities, including adoption of the precautionary principle, and should contribute to the overall coherence and integration of existing EU policies and legislation (in particular Water Framework Directive, Environmental Impact Assessment, Strategic Environmental Assessment and Birds and Habitats Directives) and the ongoing work of the Regional Sea Conventions (such as OSPAR and HELCOM).

MSFD time schedule

To comply with the MSFD EU Member States (MS) must progressively develop Marine Strategies (action plans) in several steps:

  • MS have to transpose the Directive into national law by: July 2010
  • MS have to complete the initial assessment of their seas and have to define Good Environmental Status (GES), including targets and indicators by: July 2012
  • MS have to establish monitoring programmes by: July 2014
  • MS have to design programme of measures by: July 2015
  • MS have to implement programme of measures by: July 2016
  • GES have to be achieved for MS seas by: July 2020

Geographical scope of the MSFD / Boundary between MSFSD and the Water Framework Directive (WFD)

MSFD mainly applies to marine waters (normally beyond 1 nautical mile) i.e. the waters, the seabed and subsoil on the seaward side of the baseline from which the extent of territorial waters is measured.

MSFD also applies to coastal waters as defined by the WFD [link image]but only insofar as the practical aspects of environmental status are not already addressed through the WFD.

  • thus MSFD applies in respect of litter, noise and marine mammals within WFD boundaries
  • overlap around baseline typically 1 n.m. (e.g. 3 n.m. Scotland)
  • all aspects of MSFD apply seaward of WFD boundary
  • chemical status under the WFD extends out to 12 nautical miles thus clarification required has this been resolved?

Why is the MSFD relevant for navigation and dredging activities?

The MSFD mainly applies to marine waters (normally beyond 1 nautical mile) and will influence activities including sediment management, sand mining, laying of cables and pipelines, dredging for the offshore and wind farm industries etc. Navigation dredging and new constructions (harbours, breakwaters, bridges, and tunnels), land reclamation, coastal protection may also be affected where these activities occur in marine waters (i.e. beyond coastal waters). The MSFD will provide guidance to Member States about how to decide what GES means for their seas. In turn, it is likely that Member States will consider the extent to which economic activities, such as dredging in marine waters, may affect the achievement of GES in their seas. It is possible that Member States will require consideration of the Directive as part of Environmental Impact Assessments thereby forming part of the consenting process potentially including mitigating measures and monitoring programmes. However, as GES is to be achieved at the regional or sub‐regional sea level there is currently considerable uncertainty about how (or whether) Member States will apply the MSFD at project level.

The MFSD will operate in a very complex environment spread out over a multitude of geographical sea‐borders and, for litter, cetaceans and noise along differing coastal‐ and estuarine systems. For these reasons it is clear that the implementation process needs to be considered carefully. Furthermore, the seas throughout the Member States are highly variable requiring an approach where EU regulation is sufficiently high level (hence a ‘framework’ directive) and national regulations implemented locally.

NAVI has identified the following 5 descriptors of the 11 qualitative descriptors that determine good environmental status as of particularly relevant to the navigation and dredging sectors:

  • sea-floor integrity
  • hydrographical conditions
  • contaminants
  • litter
  • undwerwater noise

How is the implementation of the MSFD organized?

To facilitate the success of the MSFD implementation the Marine Directors established an organisation structure for a Common Implementation Strategy (CIS) and set up the Marine Strategic Co‐ordination Group (MSCG). MSCG co‐ordinates the different working groups and all main activities under the CIS. MSCG is chaired by the Commission and formed by participants of all Member States. It is open to relevant international organizations (e.g. OSPAR, HELCOM) and to NGO’s and stakeholders. Currently some 30 stakeholders participate in the MSCG, CEDA being one of them. Under the MSCG several Working Groups and Task Groups have been established by the Commission. The composition of these is the same as of the MSCG. Simplified organizational structure of the MSFD CIS [link to pdf page].

How is the navigation and dredging sector input organised?

The Commission encourages stakeholders to work together to co‐ordinate their input to the MSFD implementation process through so called “thematic clusters”. In response to this, stakeholder organizations with interests in maritime navigation and dredging proactively initiated in 2009 a “navigation cluster” known as the Marine Strategy NAVIgation Group (NAVI)  (formerly known as MSNG).  NAVI members include both non-lobby professional associations as well as lobby organisations.

The task of NAVI is to coordinate the exchange of knowledge, experience and views and where possible and relevant to translate the knowledge available within the combined membership of the participating associations into professional advice that can be used in the implementation process of the MSFD. NAVI is chaired by CEDA. 

Why is CEDA involved and what is CEDA’s role on NAVI?

CEDA supports the principle of protecting the marine environment across Europe whilst, importantly, allowing sustainable uses to continue. Within CEDA’s broad membership considerable knowledge and expertise is available about several topics that are being addressed by the CIS of MSFD. We make this expertise, as well as our extensive network, available to the Commission during the implementation of the MSFD. We do this as an impartial organization; we do not engage in  any lobbying activity. We want to ensure however, that decisions affecting our member’s future activities will be based on the best scientific knowledge and practical experience available.

CEDA has a dual role on the NAVI; as a member and as Chair. As a member CEDA may provide comment and opinion on papers prepared by the group and input to discussion at NAVI meetings. However, as Chair CEDA must identify and represent the agreed position of the NAVI.

CEDA representatives

In addition to chairing NAVI, CEDA has an official Observer status on the OSPAR Marine Strategy Intersessional Correspondence Group, the OSPAR Intersessinal Correspondence Group Deep Sea Mining and the OSPAR Intersessional Correspondence Group Noise Sound. For details, please click here.

Within CEDA, this work is carried out under the auspices of the CEDA Environment Commission.

CEDA’s work on underwater sound

Underwater noise is one of the 11 qualitative descriptors that determine Good Environmental Status in the MSFD. It is also one of the descriptors identified by NAVI of relevance to the navigation and dredging sectors and which is not covered by the Water Framework Directive. Underwater sound is also relevant for a number of other regulatory frameworks including the London Convention and OSPAR where CEDA is active as non-governmental observer.  CEDA therefore has identified underwater sound as an issue that needs further consideration and set up a working group that in 2009 produced a CEDA position paper on Underwater Sound in Relation to Dredging.   This was followed in 2013 by the WODA Technical Guidance with the same title. Both documents have been met a great interest both from within as well as outside CEDA. CEDA also presented a webinar on the subject.