Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Understanding policy and legal frameworks at international, EU and national levels with relevance to VECTORS

In Europe, the European Union is a pre-eminent player in the field of sustainable regional development and in recent decades it has adopted more than 200 directives, regulations and many other forms of legislation and amendments in the area of environmental policy1. These have been adopted to deliver requirements of international law, or in response to a European problem. Few attempts have been made to collate and synthesise environmental policies to manage the marine environment2, and the VECTORS project provides a detailed overview and discussion of the types of international law, European directives and their national implementation which specifically regulate or impact on three of the key VECTORS drivers: energy, fisheries and alien species. Details are provided on their key provisions and highlight where VECTORS drivers are specifically mentioned in the text or impact on the ethos of the Convention/Directive.


International conventions and laws provide harmonisation of regulations and protection to the marine environment across the world, but only when ratified and given additional emphasis/compliance through regional law.

A number of international conventions and laws have been reviewed and summarised in the context of VECTORS, examples including UNCLOS and the major international environmental instruments resulting from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The Convention on Biological Diversity is the only globally applicable legally binding instrument to generally address alien species introduction, control and eradication across all biological taxa and ecosystems, identifying them as a major cross-cutting theme3. It also addresses Marine Protected Areas and the requirement for marine spatial planning which will influence the location of offshore energy installations, their associated infrastructure and the type of fishing activities which can occur.

In recognition of shipping being the major vector of species introductions to the marine environment through ballast water (including sediments) and biofouling, the International Maritime Organisation started negotiations to develop an internationally binding instrument to address the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens in ship ballast water. In 2004, the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM) was adopted. Biofouling as a species transport vector was then addressed by the relevant IMO working groups.

Although the European Commission have ‘strongly recommended’ that Member States should ratify the BWM Convention, very few EU countries have done so. In an effort to address the problem, the EU has developed interim measures through the Regional Seas Conventions (OSPAR, HELCOM and Barcelona) and introduced several directives which address invasive alien species (IAS) (e.g. MSFD; Port Waste Reception Facilities Directive (2000/59/EC)).


Historically, the EU approach to the protection of the marine environment has been piecemeal, tackling problems on a sectoral basis (e.g. fishing, shipping, energy, pollution). Only recently has European law changed to a more holistic view, embracing the Ecosystem Approach through the introduction of framework directives.

Since the 1970s, marine based activities have been regulated through a number of sectoral policies, where the sector including fishing, aquaculture, energy, navigation, infrastructure development, agriculture etc. has been addressed through a specific piece of legislation, usually in isolation from other issues24. Long5 considered that these policies were, and in some instances still remain ‘stand-alone policies’ with few common features giving holistic protection of the marine environment. Examples of regulatory sectoral instruments include the Nitrates Directive, the Bathing Water Directive and the Urban Waste-water Treatment Directive.

Only recently has European law changed to a more holistic view, embracing the Ecosystem Approach and introducing framework directives. With framework directives now the principal means of regulatory intervention under the EU environmental policy, this large body of environmental legislation and policy has been developed in order to monitor, conserve and protect the marine environment, with delivering institutions who must be able to accommodate and adapt to a new multi-sectoral approach467. Where most sectoral directives are prescriptive in nature setting targets and giving detailed descriptions, in contrast, framework directives leave the details to the discretion of the Member States, are not geographically bound to national jurisdiction, but apply to all uses and users of a marine area8, ensuring regional sea management and protection. Examples include the Water Framework Directive and Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).


Anticipating future impacts of VECTORS of change and mitigation measures is a prerequisite to informing current and future policy. The MSFD (2008/56/EC) addresses many of these impacts, and if implemented correctly, can help Member States to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) in marine waters by 2020.

The MSFD is a major advance for European marine environmental management extending environmental control out to the 200nm limit. It allows the integration of other holistic and framework directives such as the WFD, Natura 2000 and the Marine Spatial Planning Directive. The Directive is an ambitious piece of legislation which aims to link the causes of marine changes, the human activities and pressures to their consequences and the means of controlling and managing those causes and consequences9. If successfully applied, the Directive will ensure the protection of the natural system whilst ensuring the provision of ecosystem services and benefits for society.

The MSFD addresses all of the VECTORS of change. It significantly strengthens Member States competences and responsibilities to maintain or achieve GES for all exploited fish and shellfish stocks inside territorial waters and the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) with common goals10. It also requires that anthropogenic inputs of substances and energy, including noise, into the marine environment do not cause pollution effects; an important factor when considering the underwater noise created during the construction and operation of offshore renewables e.g. wind farms and tidal turbines. The MSFD is one of the first pieces of European legislation to address IAS. In preparing marine strategies, Member States must provide an inventory of the temporal occurrence, abundance and spatial distribution of non-indigenous, exotic species or, where relevant, genetically distinct forms of native species, which are present in the marine region or subregion.

Mapping marine legislation highlights the numerous pieces of international law, European and national legislation used to manage and protect our transitional waters, coastal and marine environments2. The resulting ‘horrendogram’ illustrates the complexity.

The centre of the horrendogram shows the international conventions, treaties and protocols (orange boxes for global law/agreements and blue boxes for international organisations) which many countries worldwide have signed and agreed to uphold. For some international conventions such as the UNFCCC, the signatory requirements have been given greater impetus through the implementation of a subsequent European directive (e.g. Renewable Energy Directive).

The red boxes show the wide range of EU Directives and policies which govern activities in European seas, with blue ovals showing the primary target/status to be met. Although EU policy was previously dominated by sectoral directives e.g. Bathing Waters Directive, there is now a move towards holistic framework directives giving protection to the whole aquatic environment e.g. the WFD and the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive.

The green boxes show how European legislation has been implemented within a national context, with England used as a case study example. All primary enabling legislation is shown, with the protection afforded to the marine environment given in the purple ovals. Consequently, the existing national legislation regulating marine activities such as energy, fisheries, shipping and conservation are mainly the product of legislative enactment, often in response to European directives and is therefore sector specific11. However, as the UK government is now encompassing the Ecosystem Approach into its environmental legislation, this is resulting in more holistic legislation being enacted e.g. Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

Although focusing on the European situation, the analysis is relevant to all maritime states.


Relevance for Policy:
  • Alien Invasive Species Directive
  • Common Fisheries Policy
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Management (forthcoming)
  • Environmental Impact Assessment Directive
  • EU Biodiversity Strategy
  • Guidelines for the Control and Management of Ships’ Biofouling to Minimize the Transfer of Invasive Aquatic Species
  • Habitats and Birds Directive
  • ICZM Protocol to the Barcelona Convention
  • Integrated European Maritime Policy (IMP)
  • International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-Fouling Systems on Ships
  • International Convention for the Control and Management of Ship's Ballast Water and Sediments
  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive
  • Water Framework Directive


Lead Author:

Sue Boyes
University of Hull (UHULL)
Date of research: September 2014

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Jellyfish outbreaks: economic results

The effect of windfarms and MPAs on fisheries

Top issues of marine invasive species in Europe 

Tourist’s valuation of climate change impacts 

Validating fleet dynamics: interview-based models 

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The content of this website may be subject to copyright, if you wish to use any of the information or figures please contact the attributed author(s).
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.