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Research of marine protected habitats in EEZ and determination of the necessary conservation status in Latvia

Funding Programme:




Completion Year:

Contact Person(s):

Ilze Sabule
Email: (ilze[dot]sabule[at]daba[dot]gov[dot]lv)
Tel: 37126167297

Implementation Period:

Total Budget: 4,007,105 €

EU Contribution: 2,404,262 €

About the Project:

The invasive fish species round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) poses a significant threat to reef habitats in the eastern Baltic waters. Studies have shown that the highest number of round gobies along the Latvian coast is found at a depth of 10-15m, although population distribution is patchy. It was also found up to 70m depths during winter months. The species has become the predominant fish species in several coastal areas, causing habitat change among competing fish species and a local depletion of blue mussels. Monitoring of Latvian Marine Protected Area Nida-Prkone in 2014 showed that mussel biomass in the coastal areas was five times lower than the level of 2006. Studies in the Baltic Seahave also identified a dietary overlap between the round goby and the European flounder (Platichthys flesus), and observed a negative correlation between their abundances. The round goby also predates on eggs of commercially valuable fish and reduces the amount of benthic invertebrates, which are shared prey with numerous native species. It also bioaccumulates contaminants such as mercury or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from polluted sediments. Furthermore, eutrophication has been threatening marine biodiversity of the Baltic Sea since the 1950s, but it is still continues unabated due to the increasing population in the catchment area, increasing agricultural practice, animal farming and industry.


The LIFE REEF projects main aim is to improve the conservation status of the protected habitats and contribute to a comprehensive management system of marine protected areas in Latvia.

Specifically, the project aims to:

  • Develop the quality criteria for evaluation of the protected marine habitats and review of existing definitions and descriptions of habitats;
  • Improve the monitoring methodology for the assessment of qualitative and quantitative changes as well as influencing factors of benthic habitats, fish and birds;
  • Identify potential marine protected sites and develop proposals for new MPAsfor the Natura 2000 network;
  • Assess the effectiveness of the MPA network (including newly assessed territories) within Latvian marine waters;
  • Develop the management plan for marine protected sites;
  • Assess ecosystem services provided by protected benthic habitats (1170 and 1110);
  • Develop an action plan for limiting invasive marine species along with mitigation measures to reduce seabird and marine mammal bycatch in coastal fisheries; and
  • Increase experience exchange within the biogeographical region towards developing a common understanding of the challenges faced.


Expected results:

  • Two functional indicators for the evaluation of the quality and species diversity of benthic habitats that will be used for assessment of conservation status in line with the Habitats Directive, as well as for MSFD and Latvian Maritime Spatial Plan (LMSP) Measure 2.1. Revised descriptions of two marine EU protected habitats stony reefs (1170) and sandbanks (1110) facilitating the easier identification of these habitats in the Eastern Baltic Sea area. The results will help to implement the Habitats Directive;
  • Improved monitoring methodology for assessment of qualitative and quantitative changes in the benthic habitats allowing for better quantification of pressures on the benthic habitats;
  • Information on the extent and conservation state of protected benthic habitats, fish and bird communities in the Latvian EEZ, contributing to EU Biodiversity Strategy Target 1 by exploring and mapping the habitats protected under the Habitats Directive as well as complementing the network of marine Natura 2000 sites by 41 66km2, comprising 26% of Latvian EEZ territory. The drawing up of scientific justifications and a proposal for the establishment of new MPA in EEZ covering 4 116km2 area. This will ensure fulfillment of thecommitments of Latvia under the Habitats Directive;
  • Reliable estimation on the effectiveness of the network of Natura 2000 sites and increased understanding of ecological integrity of habitats and species (birds, mammals, fish), allowing the estimation of the intrinsic ecosystem value, as well as provision of ecosystem services;
  • Management plan for the MPA according to the national legislation that will be submitted to the MEPRD for approval;
  • Scientific advice for including ecosystem services in the management plan of marine protected areas for MEPRD;
  • National action plan for limiting invasive marine species and its enhanced implementation. A range of methods will be tested to prevent the negative impact of the round goby, while environmentally friendly fishery practices will be encouraged by testing new methods for preventing bycatch and thus reducing the killing of the sea birds and mammals;
  • Scientific advice for the management of a coastal fishery targeted at the Ministry of Agriculture, which has signed declaration of support; and
  • Enhanced protection of the marine ecosystems and improved international collaboration with an approved new MPA for the Natura 2000 network covering 4 116 km2.


  • Nature Conservation Agency (LV);
  • Institute of Food Safety, Animal Health and Environment "BIOR" (LV);
  • Latvian Institute of Aquatic Ecology (LV);
  • State Regional Development Agency (LV).