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With a favourable vote at the Council of Environment Ministers on 17 June 2024, the European Union has adopted its Nature Restoration Law (NRL).

It’s the first time in over 30 years that legally binding rules have been set to bring nature back to Europe. What does it mean exactly for Europe’s seas and marine life?

From climate-friendly seagrass meadows to precious habitats like gravel beds or sandbanks that serve as breeding grounds for sensitive species, Europe’s seas harbour a wealth of marine life and ecosystems that are crucial for keeping the health of the ocean – and planet – in check. A healthy ocean is also critical to regulate our climate. The ocean is the Earth’ s thermostat: without it, we would no longer have a liveable planet.

The NRL will mean that EU countries have to adopt national restoration plans and put in place restoration measures that cover at least 20% of sea areas by 2030, spelling a brighter future for fish and fauna alike.

Up until now, destructive fishing practices have been taking place in so-called ‘marine protected areas’ (MPAs) across the EU. This includes bottom trawling, where weighted nets bulldoze the seabed, scooping up all life and ecosystems in their wake. Bottom trawling has sometimes been more intensive inside MPAs than outside! Thanks to the NRL, EU countries will have to find joint solutions when there is a conflict between marine restoration goals and harmful fishing like bottom trawling in areas fished by neighboring countries.

After years of exploitation and neglect, the NRL gives Europe’s seas a new lease of life. With the ocean being a provider of jobs, food and a key defense against climate change, these marine wins are also huge opportunities for the wellbeing of people and public health. Now it’s over to EU countries to put in place their national restoration plans to turn the NRL’ s worthy goals into real-life actions – the positive impacts of which will be felt for generations to come.

According to Gonçalo Carvalho, Executive Coordinator of Sciaena, “the Nature Restoration Act is a milestone in terms of environmental legislation on a global scale. The text approved today is the result of a broad consensus in the European Union on the need to achieve a balance between healthy ecosystems and the prosperity of the populations and activities that depend on them, such as fishing and agriculture. We are particularly pleased with this legislation because it contains effective measures on ocean conservation and because we believe that Portugal in particular is already well on the way to implementing it.”

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