Protecting our maritime heritage

Article written by Mark Abdilla – Executive, EU Policy and Legislation, MEUSAC
Published in The Malta Independent – 12.09.19

Climate change continues to feature as one of the EU’s priorities and on the world stage as a whole. Environmental degradation is an unfortunate reality, leading to adverse effects on human health, biodiversity, and quality of life. This includes serious threats to the integrity of our coasts and oceans and brings about the necessity of having a strong policy framework to protect our marine heritage.

The EU has a strong legislative framework focusing on issues of marine and coastal protection and undertakes a multifaceted approach to ensuring such legislation is comprehensively implemented in different areas. These areas range from legislation on sustainable fishing, control on water quality, to coastal zone management and a more focused marine strategy framework.

The most integral aspect of the EU’s maritime policy is the necessity of bringing together all the different sectors relating to maritime issues. This is the principal aim of the EU’s Integrated Maritime Policy, as it looks to achieve the full economic potential of the seas with respect to maritime environmental integrity. At the same, it also serves to ensure that management of the EU’s maritime areas is not fragmented. This is highly important to ensure that issues falling under different policy areas are properly managed, such as policies relating to blue growth. Blue growth is all about ensuring consistent economic growth based on different maritime sectors. It is an essential aspect of the EU’s efforts to ensure marine protection across the board.

An important aspect of the EU’s Integrated Maritime Policy is the provision of funding opportunities to strengthen maritime areas. This is done through various programmes focusing on different issues and priorities. Currently, this funding is delivered through programmes such as the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), with an allocation of €71 million for the 2014-2020 period. In addition to this, other funding programmes also offer opportunities for work to be carried out on maritime issues, such as through Horizon 2020 and LIFE.

One of the primary instruments in driving the protection of the EU’s maritime areas is the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. It focuses on all facets of the EU’s maritime resources and promotes the concept of sustainability. The main aim of this directive is to achieve Good Environmental Status of the EU’s marine waters by 2020, thereby protecting the EU’s maritime resource base. This also necessitates that each Member State come up with their own national strategies to achieve this status. Collaboration in this respect ensures that all Member States are driven towards the same goals.

Malta’s national strategy considers Malta’s geographical characteristics and looks to ensure that the management of national marine waters is in line with EU standards. This includes various measures aimed at addressing different aspects of Malta’s maritime heritage, such as marine species, biological diversity, educational measures, and public awareness campaigns.

In preparing this national strategy, MEUSAC assisted with the organisation of a consultation exercise with stakeholders in order to ensure that individuals and businesses working within the maritime sector would have the opportunity to contribute to the national strategy. It also provided various stakeholders with the chance to raise their own concerns on a variety of environmental issues, such as waste water treatment, maritime emissions, and ocean pollution. This exercise was held in January 2017.

Having a sound framework to protect our maritime heritage is crucial to a more sustainable future. It is key to maintaining blue growth and keeping a clean marine environment. As climate change continues to feature as a critical issue on a global level, the EU will continue prioritising marine protection over the years to come.

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