Marine Environmental Protection

Das Wattenmeer in Niedersachsen im Sonnenuntergang.

Our oceans contain 97 percent of the world’s water resources. They are rich in biodiversity and supply natural resources, food as well as active substances for medicines. Furthermore, they store energy supplies, serve as routes of transport and offer high recreational value. In short, the value of the world’s oceans is immense – in social, environmental and economic terms. While being intensively used by humans, oceans are often not afforded sufficient protection. This became blindingly obvious, for instance, when the Mumbai Maersk ran aground off the German coast early in 2022. The marine environment is not only under threat from dangerous oil drilling methods, but also from other human interventions (for example deep-sea mining, offshore wind energy, bridges, et cetera), shipping, overfishing, climate change, and inputs of nutrients and persistent substances or carbon dioxide from the air, which contributes to ocean acidification. We must protect the seas as an ecosystem while securing their capacity for environmentally compatible uses and potential contributions to climate change mitigation. While this is fundamentally a global imperative, we need to start by protecting the seas on our doorstep – the North Sea, which is home to the ecologically valuable Wadden Sea World Natural Heritage Site, and the Baltic Sea with its fragile lagoons (known as "Bodden").

Marine conservation is one of the Federal Environment Ministry’s priorities for the current legislative period. Marine conservation comprises marine environmental protection (for example reducing inputs of plastic waste) as well as marine nature conservation (for example protecting marine fauna and flora by setting up effective marine protected areas). The Federal Environment Ministry (BMUV) has set up a new Directorate to strengthen the profile of marine conservation. In addition, the German government has appointed its first marine policy coordinator (Deputy Director-General Sebastian Unger) at the suggestion of the BMUV.


Protecting the seas effectively through well-managed protected areas

The German government supports the goal of protecting 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030. In Germany’s North and Baltic Seas, as much as 45 percent of the territory is already protected by law. Moreover, we will put 10 percent of our EEZ under strict protection in line with the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy and designate zones free of harmful activities. The management plans for the protected areas in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Germany’s Baltic and North Seas contain measures that will be implemented over the coming years to ensure effective marine nature conservation.

The German government is working at international level towards an agreement for the conservation of biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (BBNJ Treaty). This joint international agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) will regulate the designation and management of protected areas on the high seas and stipulate minimum requirements for the implementation of environmental impact assessments prior to certain human interventions in marine ecosystems. Within the European Union, Germany is rallying support for the negotiations with a view to the swift adoption of an effective set of rules for biodiversity conservation in areas beyond national jurisdiction. This will also help achieve the 30 percent protection target for 2030.

A major goal of the German government is to achieve the designation of protected areas in Antarctica under the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). For instance, Germany has proposed the Weddell Sea, one of the last virtually unspoiled regions of Antarctica, as a potential candidate for protection.

International level

UN Sustainability Development Goal (SDG) 14 "Life below water" / Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

The UN SDGs are a set of comprehensive development goals which the international community has committed to achieving. SDG 14 (“Life below water”) sets out the goal to protect oceans, seas and marine resources and to use them in a sustainable manner. To this end, in international conferences and initiatives the German government advocates common standards and ambitious regulatory frameworks.

As a key international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of global biodiversity, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is also crucial for marine nature conservation. Within the framework of the CBD, and with significant support from the German government, ecologically valuable marine areas have been identified in a large number of seas over the past few years and documented in a public database.

Protecting and strengthening the Wadden Sea World Natural Heritage Site

For more than 40 years, the German government has been active in the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation (TWSC) to support the conservation of the Wadden Sea, which gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2009. Together with Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany’s coastal states, the BMUV initiates and coordinates a great variety of activities and regulatory measures to ensure the protection of this unique ecosystem.

Adapting the oceans to climate change and developing nature-based solutions

Oceans are seen as increasingly significant in the context of the climate crisis. Species diversity and habitats are suffering from the rise in temperatures and the consequent decreasing oxygen levels and increasing acidification. Functioning marine ecosystems, however, are capable of storing carbon and mitigating the climate crisis. As part of the Federal Action Plan on Nature-based Solutions for Climate and Biodiversity, the German government seeks to promote nature-based solutions with a view to protecting ecosystems against climate change.

Using the oceans in a more nature-friendly manner

In view of the increasing overexploitation of the world’s oceans, the German government supports efforts to reduce the negative impact of human interventions in marine ecosystems and to use the seas in a nature-friendly manner, for instance in the form of effectively managed marine protected areas that can provide shelter and refuge for protected species.

The EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive, adopted in 2008, called for a good environmental status to be achieved for the seas by 2020. For Germany, this applies to the North and Baltic Seas. In particular, this requires the following:

  • Preserving biological diversity.
  • Minimising anthropogenic eutrophication.
  • Ensuring that concentrations of contaminants do not give rise to pollution effects.
  • Ensuring that the properties and quantities of marine litter do not have any harmful impact on the coastal and marine environment.
  • Limiting inputs of energy, including underwater noise, to levels that do not adversely impact the marine environment.

German government policy

An integrated approach to environmental policy

Building on the CBD’s ecosystem approach, the German government pursues an integrated approach to marine conservation. This means that all relevant policy fields are to include aspects relating to marine environmental protection and marine nature conservation. This includes, in particular, fisheries, agricultural, transport and chemicals policies. The German government’s new marine policy coordinator will bring together all government processes that are relevant in terms of marine policy.

National strategy for the environmentally sound use and conservation of the seas

In its coalition agreement, the German government set itself the goal of developing a marine strategy. This strategy will set out consistent guidelines for the protection of oceans and seas.

Striking the balance between environmental, economic and social aspects

The German government’s policy seeks to strike a balance between environmental, economic and social aspects. After all, Germany’s economic performance is to a considerable extent based on the utilisation of the world’s oceans. The maritime sector offers great potential for economic output and employment. When it comes to commercial uses of the sea, it is particularly important to ensure effective marine nature conservation and to pay due attention to environmental aspects.

Key German influence in European marine conservation policy

Germany is committed to supporting transnational and international solutions for marine conservation. It had a major influence on the development of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive. It is a member of the two regional cooperation mechanisms, OSPAR for the protection of the North-East Atlantic, and HELCOM for the protection of the Baltic Sea, as well as of the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation (TWSC). Germany made a significant contribution to the drafting of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), which addresses the four main risks to a healthy marine environment in the Baltic Sea: over-fertilisation, biodiversity loss, discharge of hazardous substances and effects of maritime activities.

  • OSPAR Commission (North Sea, North-East Atlantic)
  • OSPAR – Marine conservation in the North Sea region
  • HELCOM – Marine conservation in the Baltic region
  • TWSC – Trilateral Cooperation on the Protection of the Wadden Sea

Germany attaches great importance to the work of the regional cooperation agreements. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive, among other things, expressly calls for the integration of these existing structures in order to actively use their many years of expertise for the implementation of the Directive. In addition, there is constructive cooperation on the agenda BALTIC 21.

Last updated: 24.10.2022

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