The Natura 2000 network forms the cornerstone of the biodiversity conservation strategy of the European Union and is the largest coordinated network of protected areas (PAs) in the world.

Given that the basic objective of the Natura 2000 is to ensure the coherence of PAs, this study aimed to investigate whether: 1) there are any spatial biases in the location of the protected sites, 2) the Natura 2000 network was biased in terms of habitat representativeness, and 3) the current structure and configuration of the network ensures cross-boundary coherence.

The results show that the relative percentage of marine surface cover varies significantly among member states. It is stated that the majority of the protected surfaces is adjacent to the coastline and decreases offshore; only 20% of Natura 2000 marine PAs is at depths greater than 200m.

The study shows that the lack of systematic planning processes is further reflected by the great variability in the distances among protected sites and the limited number of shared Natura sites among member states. Additionally, it was found that less than 40% of the marine sites have management plans, indicating the absence of active, or limited management in most sites.

The authors conclude that the network fails to adequately cover the marine environment and meet the conservation target of 10% set by the Convention on Biological Diversity, and highlight the unevenly treatment of marine vs. terrestrial areas. In addition, the authors point out that focusing solely on coverage targets sets up a poor conservation guideline and state that MPA networks must be representative, adequate, connected and cost-efficient in order to provide substantial conservation benefits and foster out capacity to cope with future changes. Taking into account the results, the authors state that to achieve effective conservation, policy and decision makers should not only aim at the enlargement of the Natura 2000 network in the marine environment but should also ensure the effective management of the currently designated Natura 2000 sites.

Mazaris AD, Almpanidou V, Giakoumi S, Katsanevakis S (2018) Gaps and challenges of the European network of protected sites in the marine realm. ICES Journal of Marine Science 75:190-198