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Cables and pipelines & Marine protection and restoration

This page provides basic information on the combination between marine protection and restoration and cables and pipelines, and will be further populated as more information becomes available. 

Both pipelines and cables are susceptible to generating adverse impacts on marine ecosystems. Damage to pipelines can cause serious environmental impacts as it can lead to the leakage of potentially harmful elements into the ocean for relatively long period of time, since such spills often go undetected for weeks or even months.   When it comes to cables (and especially ORE installation cables), they can emit electromagnetic fields, which disrupt the behaviour of certain species that rely on them to `navigate or hunt. Power cables can also have a local influence on water temperature that can impact sediment-dwelling species and the egg development of species that bury their eggs in the sediment.

The main challenge is related to the environmental impact cables can have when crossing sensitive habitats. To avoid such impacts, any new cable settlement must comply with an Environmental Impact Assessment. The compatibility with marine protection is to be ensured with the lowest impacts by implementation the Avoid/Reduce/Offset approach.


Cables and pipelines

Across all sea basins, countries are connected by numerous submarine cables such as telecommunication cables that carry digital data, electrical cables that carry energy, and pipelines that transport oil or gas.

Most cables are buried beneath the seabed or are protected externally. However, some cables remain partially or totally unburied and lie on the surface of the sea floor. Pipelines are fixed and laid in protected trenches. 

Cables and pipelines are strategic elements for the functioning of the globalized economy as they connect countries and continents and transport key flows. Disruption of their functioning could result in severe financial damage and impact key sectors. For pipelines the effects can be even more serious, as damage to pipelines can also cause serious environmental impacts. 

Pipelines are mainly owned by private oil and gas companies, while telecom cables are owned by public limited companies and electricity cables by Transmission System Operators (TSOs). International key players are The European Subsea Cables Association [1] and the International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC) [2].

Marine protection and restoration

Marine protection and restoration can be approached from a geographical angle (area-based approach), from a particular species angle (such as whale conservation), or through more encompassing ecosystem health approaches (reduction of pollution, etc.). 

Key international initiatives have been developed, both globally at EU level (Marine Strategy Framework Directive [3], EU Mission: Restore our Ocean and Waters [4]) that both frame EU actions in terms of marine protection and restoration, and at a more local level (such as the ACCOBAMS).

One of the main tools for area-based marine conservation is Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), but other designations fulfil similar functions (such as Natura 2000 areas). There has been a tenfold increase in MPA designation around the world since 2013.

Governance wise, this hugely diverse sector is divided between a wide range of actors of very different natures: States, NGO’s, local authorities, scientific institutions, international organizations, etc. It is therefore sometimes challenging to identify the relevant players that need to be involved in discussions.

For more information about EU blue economy sectors please visit the EU Blue Economy Observatory website. 

For more European statistics and data you can also visit the Eurostat website


Existing co-existence and multi-use initiatives