German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)

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Pressures on the marine environment


The video shows a small excerpt from the film "Protected areas: Safeguarding marine biodiversity".
Excerpt from protected areas video on the marine economy...

Mankind has used the seas for generations, and not just for fishing. Through their activities, people have an impact on habitats and ecological communities to varying degrees. But with greater mechanisation and rowing scope for offshore operations, the pressure of use is increasing. The high intensity and the nature of exploitation now pose severe threats to biodiversity in the North Sea and Baltic Sea.

Assessment by BfN

BfN has a part to play here: The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation has general responsibility (only in German) for enforcing the requirements of the Federal Nature Conservation Act and the Environmental Damage Act with regard to harm to biodiversity in the German North Sea and Baltic Sea EEZ (Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSChG), Section 58, sentence 1). As the public agency in charge of nature conservation, BfN assesses the many forms of human activity in the German Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for compatibility with nature conservation objectives and the law. Among other things, this means looking at the influencing factors and impacts associated with specific projects, and primarily impacts on species and habitats. The focus here is on protected species such as marine mammals, seabirds and certain species of fish, and protected habitats such as sandbanks and reefs. In the process, BfN identifies and recommends more nature-friendly solutions for planned activities and thus puts forward measures to avoid and lessen the adverse effects of human intervention.

Limits to the resilience of marine ecosystems

Pressures of human activity have grown so much that it may be more realistic to think of Germany’s marine areas as part of the economy rather than part of nature. The North Sea and the Baltic Sea today lead a conflicting, dual existence as an arena for economic activity and an ecologically valuable natural environment.

If we wish to keep the marine natural environment intact and pass on natural resources to future generations, then we must restrict our use of the seas to activities that are ecologically sustainable. This makes it necessary to identify and respect the sustainability limits of marine ecosystems, and to give consideration to those limits in all human activities.

Precautionary spatial planning

Ensuring that this happens – and resolving existing conflicts between activities – requires responsible, integrated marine regional planning. For decades, regional planning in Germany was restricted to the mainland and the 12-mile zone, and was a responsibility of the German Länder. Since a major revision to the German Regional Planning Act (ROG) in 2004, regional planning in the EEZ has been a federal responsibility, with the work shared by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI, formerly BMVBS) and the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH). Spatial plans were adopted for the German North Sea and Baltic Sea EEZ via two ordinances that came into force in 2009.

In an official contribution to the planning process (naturschutzfachlicher Planungsbeitrag (only in German)) published in 2006, BfN compiled guiding principles in the form of a vision for the development of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea EEZ and principles and objectives for safeguarding and ensuring the natural development of the EEZ as a natural region. The principles and objectives take into account the specific features of the marine environment and support sustainable spatial development of the EEZ from a nature conservation perspective. The objectives include designated protected areas in the EEZ as priority areas for nature conservation and the preservation of bird migration corridors.

Assessment by BfN

BfN has a part to play here. As part of approval procedures, it assesses the diverse human interventions in the German Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from a nature conservation and legal perspective. For this purpose, BfN compiles statements of position on specific projects (uses) and comprehensively assesses their influencing factors and the associated pressures, in particularly with regard to impacts on species and habitats. The focus here is on protected species such as marine mammals, seabirds and certain species of fish, and protected habitats such as sandbanks and reefs. In the process, BfN develops and recommends solutions for a more environment-friendly form of the planned use, i.e. it proposes measures to avoid and reduce the adverse effects of human intervention.

Approval procedures for many marine projects are complex and wide-ranging. The approval authorities – various federal and Länder agencies – generally set a scope for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) that the applicant is required to submit to them. BfN’s recommendations with regard to nature conservation play a key part in this connection. The environmental impact assessment includes hydrological factors (such as currents and temperature), physiochemical factors (such as pollutants) and most of all biological factors (fauna, flora and habitats), describing potential impacts of the intervention on each. If a plan or project (individually or in combination with others) is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site, a Habitats Directive assessment has to be carried out in addition. Further documentation may also be required, for example under habitat and species conservation law.

BfN advises the competent authorities for the EEZ in approval procedures and for this purpose compiles comprehensive expert opinions that the approval authorities have to take into account in their decisions. BfN itself is the competent authority where any exceptions or exemptions have to be decided on, for example under habitat or species conservation law.

Limits to the resilience of marine ecosystems

Pressures of human activity have grown so much that it may be more realistic to think of Germany’s marine areas as part of the economy rather than part of nature. The North Sea and the Baltic Sea today lead a conflicting, dual existence as an arena for economic activity and an ecologically valuable natural environment.

If we wish to keep the marine natural environment intact and pass on natural resources to future generations, then we must restrict our use of the seas to activities that are ecologically sustainable. This makes it necessary to identify and respect the sustainability limits of marine ecosystems, and to give consideration to those limits in all human activities.

Precautionary spatial planning

Ensuring that this happens – and resolving existing conflicts between activities – requires responsible, integrated marine regional planning. For decades, regional planning in Germany was restricted to the mainland and the 12-mile zone, and was a responsibility of the German Länder. Since a major revision to the German Regional Planning Act (ROG) in 2004, responsibility for regional planning in the EEZ has been held by federal government, where the work is shared by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI, formerly BMVBS) and the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BHS). Spatial plans were adopted for the German North Sea and Baltic Sea EEZ via two ordinances that came into force in 2009.

In an official contribution (Naturschutzfachlicher Planungbeitrag) to the planning process published in 2006, BfN compiled guiding principles in the form of a vision for the development of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea EEZ and principles and objectives for safeguarding and ensuring the natural development of the EEZ as a natural region. The principles and objectives take into account the specific features of the marine environment and support sustainable spatial development of the EEZ from a nature conservation perspective. The objectives include designated protected areas in the EEZ as priority areas for nature conservation and preserving bird migration corridors.

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