Joint Action Facts
Action period: November 2019
Strategic area:
  • Interdisciplinary Research for Good Environmental Status
Lead countries:
  • Belgium
  • Italy
  • Malta
More Information
Secretariat Contact:

Sandra Ketelhake (lead)

+32 (0) 2 626 16 77

Pier Francesco Moretti

+32 483 087715


Scientific contacts: Patrick Roose (RBINS), Mario Sprovieri (CNR), Aldo Drago (UM)

Effective linkages are needed between emerging knowledge, innovative approaches and techniques in marine science and its practical understanding, and possible uses within the Marine Strategic Framework Directive (MSFD) context.

This means that criteria, including threshold values, methodological standards, and proper representation of descriptors, should be reviewed and amended periodically, in  light of scientific and technical progress. The efficient mechanisms for such revisions should also be built and strengthened, including the development of new and innovative observational schemes and techniques, available to Member States. This will lead to better consistency in the determination of the Good Environmental Status (GES) of different marine regions in the European Seas.

In such context, science can contribute to revising or introducing criteria, apply risk-based approaches, and provide rigorous definitions to sharpen and refine/specify the concept of thresholds and, in turn, of the GES. Science also holds responsibility to foster data harmonization and interoperability.

JPI Oceans has already addressed such challenges faced by Member States in fulfilling the requirements of many directives, for instance through the pilot action “Intercalibration for the EU Water Framework directive”, where the support of research jointly funded by the participating countries has provided impacting clues for solutions at policy level. Other JPI Oceans actions are already framed in the context of monitoring and assessment and of fostering Good Environmental Status, e.g. Munitions in the Sea or Ecological Aspects of Microplastics. It is anticipated that this JPI Oceans Joint Action will potentially improve coordination and have a role in sharing best practice among Member States.



The Good Environmental Status is a relatively new concept, but after over ten years of its driven initiatives, it is timely to provide a refreshed perspective. This will be based on the activities outlined below, contributing to fulfilling the implementation of the MSFD and the policy message that lies in it, and will mainly focus on the questions that science will address in order to make the assessing process effective and efficient.

Science related to Good Environmental Status determination

The determination of the GES is based on the values of ocean variables associated to different ecosystem components, specified in the criteria of descriptors. These variables and related indicators should be relatively simple to measure and communicate, enabling a better common understanding across disciplines and better information transfer, providing policy makers with a clearer picture of changes and trends in the ocean system.

The strategies in monitoring, data interpretation and reporting should be suited to answer the key questions implicitly raised by Member Countries to identify the level of GES in their coastal zone and EEZ. This implies that an improved approach should take into account a clever exploitation of additional tools, new technologies, sensors and variables, and advanced use of computational methods to map and model environmental changes and impacts, including better interoperability and coupling between modelling and observational data.

Support to policy and governance

National implementation of the MSFD is subject to fragmentation.  In order to fulfil the MSFD requirements along the science - policy interface and the ecosystem approach, scientific syntheses of key ecosystem datasets need to be improved, towards a better understanding of the determination of GES in the European Seas. However, despite the wealth of scientific information produced across Europe, much of this knowledge is currently not presented in a format that can be readily used by policy makers and many stakeholders, and it is often overlooked even by the scientific community. Furthermore, the need for indicators of change, knowledge of pressures and their impacts should be linked to social and economic state-of-the-art indicators. Understanding and integrating environmental information with societal and economic developments and goals is also more and more essential to ensure effective policy of sustainable resource use.

Research support to policy and governance should thus set efficient and effective science-based information and tools, ensuring that the capacity of marine ecosystems to respond to human-induced changes is not compromised.

Data collection

Data, at national and EU level, appear sparse and heterogeneous in terms of targeted variables, quality, sampling methodologies and strategy, etc. This implies difficulties in providing usable data sets for interoperability, comparability or harmonization, and for calibration and validation activities. Indeed, a harmonized strategy is often lacking, due to what is available and/or feasible, based on national capacities.

Moreover, complexity cannot be approached by addressing the status of the system as the sum of single parts: data alone will never be enough to fully represent the spatial and temporal variability of the system. A categorization and process-based context of data collection is therefore needed, in terms of fitness for purpose, protocols, and quality control, in the light of a synergic use of data along with modelling and remote sensing analyses. While there are already good practices in management of measurements for different datasets, the scientific community calls for a better understanding of the “landscape” of the available in situ products, for example for the support of those model outputs and satellite algorithms that are able to capture, synoptically, the state of the ecosystem. The integration of in situ Earth Observations and modelling will serve to achieve the goal of defining “trajectories” along state variables, thus analysing the ecosystem as a whole, both space and time wise. Data collection, including inter-calibration of data and data management, usually underestimated, should focus on the dynamics of the ecosystem, within the contexts of an integrated observing system. JPI Oceans can promote the sharing and merging of data, addressing the problem of harmonization, as well as the main issue of data heterogeneity and assessment.


The Joint Action will be articulated in three main lines of activities: i) Knowledge sharing towards the determination of GES, through a series of workshops; ii) Joint integrated monitoring approaches, that will take advantage of all state of the art techniques and existing infrastructures; and iii) Test beds and augmented observatories, that will introduce new infrastructure for near real time monitoring at sea.

Knowledge sharing

A series of scientific expert workshops will be organized for sharing new knowledge and its practical understanding, conceptual approaches, identification of needs and clues, as a structured learning process to support “the official Task Groups”, the Marine Strategy Competence Centre and, in general, the entire community working and addressing the MSFD. These  will also set possible platforms (i.e., EU policy lab, knowledge hub, blue-bridge virtual research environments, etc.) and adapt the implementation of the MSFD to the different needs, for a better determination of GES. The workshops will also contribute to structure a dialogue between different experts and facilitate the transformation from a silos approach (still disciplinary) to a true ecosystemic approach, aiming at building rules of correspondence between different communities. The documentation will support decision makers to proceed in launching joint actions or revisions in implementing the MSFD.

For example, the expert workshops will represent the “knowledge environment” where priorities and specific activities focused on approaches at joint integrated observations will be identified and set up, creating a scientific ‘fil rouge’ and comprehensive conceptual support for this JPI Oceans action.

Joint Integrated monitoring approaches

The proposed integrated monitoring approaches should include shared, trans-disciplinary monitoring platforms and expertise. These must be linked to specific activities such as interdisciplinary workshops, integrated methodologies, development of technologies for monitoring relationships of biological (e.g., omics), biogeochemical, and physical processes, in order to support a common approach, synergies, and complementarity of efforts. This would also help to assist member state groups to implement monitoring programmes, according to adopted strategies, and to promote common systems, by transferring knowledge and methods, in practice, by direct hands-on joint actions at national level. The scope of all this is to achieve harmonized, wide-regional, innovative, cost-efficient, and effective assessment schemes of the GES, in particular, from the synergy of modelling, satellite, and in situ products.

To meet evolving ocean observation needs, the role of joint, integrated observation approaches as a part of the wider European Ocean Observing System (EOOS) will be taken into account. In this context, an integration of European research oceanographic fleet for conducting periodic MSFD-oriented surveys may create an appropriate framework towards better collaboration and interoperability of Member States, within emerging areas of activity, sharing the methodological advancements and coherent approaches. Continuous feedback with the Marine Copernicus community will also result crucial, in comparing CMEMS Ocean Monitoring Indicators (OMIs), as well as with the EMODnet organizations, which may help, for instance, in filling emerging gaps in marine data availability.  

Finally, an interesting win-win situation should be highlighted whereby ocean observations for environmental management, for monitoring the health of the marine ecosystem, and for marine safety and surveillance would (i) use common platforms, and (ii) serve to feed the research and economic sectors for added value generation and societal benefits. The same infrastructure for data collection and generation proposed here would thus be available for use and re-use by multiple users at no additional cost.  In an evolving knowledge-based society, access to high quality data, modelling and satellite observations, blended into smart technologies, are key ingredients to support sustainable blue growth, especially in coastal areas where many essential economic activities are occurring at the national scale.

Towards augmented observatories

Augmented observatories should be conceived as integrated observation, monitoring and experimentation infrastructures. Key elements will be the requirement of being autonomous and automated, provide multidisciplinary measurements, and obtain a high-resolution data collection and a real or near-real time link with the base station on the mainland. Furthermore, the observatory ideally allows a multi-platform, adaptive sampling strategy.

These new approaches and a harmonised view on specific and crucial indicators will provide an unprecedented opportunity for understanding the marine ecosystem. Setting up test beds that handle different aspects of the tasks and are conceived within the broader strategy of the ultimate augmented observatory is the way forward. The ultimate goal is to provide science-based novel approaches allowing the achievement of a GES and that more adequately describe the marine ecosystem and changes therein.

Next steps

Our joint initiative aims to contribute to better understanding and achieving a GES in a more integrative way towards a sustainable use of the sea and support to the MSFD. This is challenging and requires long-term perspective and international coordination that a JPI Oceans Action can facilitate.

A scoping workshop focusing on “The contribution of Research for the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive” took place in Brussels in December 2018. A first expert workshop on “Science for Good Environmental Status” was held in Capo Granitola (Sicily, Italy) from 6 to 7 June 2019. This workshop was hosted at the CNR premises.

The action has been officially adopted by JPI Oceans in November 2019. The first cross-disciplinary expert workshop after the adoption will take place from 23 to 25 June 2020 in Rome. It will be hosted by the BlueMed initiative. More information will be available soon.

Implementation options

Research and innovation: Institutional and/or structural funds from single countries. Joint calls to EU funding scheme. ERA-NET Cofund initiatives, INTERREG.

Connectivity: Establishing knowledge hubs and networks of experts.

Capacity building: Training, mobility of human resources, accessing/sharing marine infrastructures, procedures/agreements for transnational access and sharing of infrastructures, access to data;

Supporting actions: Workshops, reviews, impact assessments, test cases. These can be scaled in several contexts (supranational: UN, OPCW, NATO; Europe: EU, OSCE, European Council; National: ministers of environment, fishery etc., regional authorities), including existing accessing and sharing marine infrastructures (national ships, national coastal observatories), procedures and agreements for transnational access and sharing data.


From 2 to 4 December 2020 the first S4GES expert workshop on ‘Musing on the concept of Good Environmental Status: the complexity of the status and the status of complexity’ took place virtually. The workshop was jointly organized by BlueMed Initiative and JPI Oceans, and focused on the complexity in the marine ecosystem and the connected aspects for the implementation and governance of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

To learn more about the workshop and its outcomes, you can access recordings and read the Programme, Abstract Booklet and presentations here

See the recording of Day 1:



The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is the current regulatory European Union framework promoting actions for environmental assessments, defining environmental targets and setting programs of monitoring and measures, with the overall objective of maintaining or restoring a Good Environmental Status (GES) of European Seas and their resources.  The MSFD came into force in 2008 with the goal of achieving the GES by 2020. This interval represents the timeframe of the Directive and encompasses the necessary time for its implementation at national levels and six-year assessment cycles. The initial assessment and the Member States reports on the environmental status carried in the first implementation cycle have shown a range of complexity and difficulty in the implementation of the Directive. The results showed the necessity to significantly improve the quality and coherence/consistence of the determination of GES by the Member States. The Commission further recognized that criteria and methodological standards on GES of marine waters, specifications and standardised methods for monitoring and assessment, should be based on the best available science and additional scientific improvement. Technical progress is also needed and should be used when available.

Throughout the next decades, mankind aims to perform a step change in the use of the marine ecosystems, yet aware that the still limited knowledge in their functioning may hamper long-term exploitation of their resources. The MSFD is one of the initiatives undertaken so far for the exploitation of the ocean and sea with some precaution in order to prevent irreversible changes, as it has occurred on land in several cases, and to possibly revert or mitigate changes already caused by its human use. The MSFD is in fact part of a much wider set of EU policies which include the Blue Growth Strategy, the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive, the Common Fishery Policy, among others.


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