The FINANCIAL — The EU has the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world, known as Natura 2000 and consisting of almost 27 000 terrestrial and marine sites.
In 2020, nearly 451 000 km2 of the EU’s marine waters were protected as marine Natura 2000 areas. This represents a 2% increase compared with 2019 and a 58% increase compared with 2015.
Identification of valuable areas to be protected is much more challenging in seas than on land. That is one of the reasons why the designation of marine Natura 2000 sites is less advanced compared with the terrestrial Natura 2000 sites, and important yearly increases in the size of protected marine areas are observed in some EU Member States, as the designation advances.
Between 2019 and 2020, the largest increases in marine Natura 2000 areas were recorded in Italy (80%, or 9 676 km2) and Belgium (4%, 46 km2). The rest of the Member States recorded virtually no changes.
In absolute terms, the largest national network of marine Natura 2000 areas is located in coastal waters around France (132 688 km2). Together with the second largest national network – in Spain (84 405 km2) – these account for almost half (48%) of the EU’s marine Natura 2000 areas.