International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

Experience of the North Sea in the OSPAR context

Gert Verreet With twenty years of involvement of marine eutrophication related issues in the North-East Atlantic, the author gives an overview of how eutrophication combating was addressed in the North Sea context. North Sea eutrophication has proven to be a problem that isn’t easily resolved, among other things because nutrient losses from agriculture, which contribute significantly to this phenomenon, are more difficult to control than point sources and there is a longer than expected time lag from decision, to implementation, to results in the sea. The North Sea drains a densely populated area with intensive agriculture. When the eutrophication problem received political attention in the 1980's, the North Sea Conference framework provided a forum for a first round of principal policy decisions. These were taken up in a EU context in the early 1990's, giving rise to specific EC directives. The international monitoring and assessment of the evolution of the eutrophication status of the North Sea then started in the context of the OSPAR Convention. The technical and scientific infrastructure to monitor relevant aspects was developed in the period since 1987, with gradual improvements to the international arrangements in place. Formal monitoring of implementation of relevant policy became mostly the remit of the EU, with periodic reporting to the North Sea Conference and OSPAR fora. The development of the toolkit is reviewed, and some monitoring and assessment results are discussed. With the advent of the Water Framework Directive, most EU Member States attention has now turned to achieving the objectives of that directive including 'good ecological status' by 2015. This integrated water policy approach is, among other things, providing even more detailed guidance on the assessment of eutrophication and the need to take measures at source for different sectors, including agriculture in the context of basin management plans. The European Commission uses its various powers to induce Member States to comply with the environmental legislation as many Member States experience an implementation gap. In the meantime, in recent years little new international legislative measures are taken to address nutrients from agriculture. There is insufficient knowledge of the question whether existing policy implementation will suffice to resolve the eutrophication problems of the North Sea.

01 Jan 2016

4 MB


Experience of the North Sea in the OSPAR