The Macaronesian marine sub region is one of the four included in the North-East Atlantic marine region, by Article 4 of Directive 2008/56 / EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework Community action in the field of the marine environment (Marine Strategy Framework Directive - MSFD).

The Macaronesian marine sub-region comprises the marine waters under the jurisdiction of Portugal (Azores and Madeira) as well as those under jurisdiction of Spain (Canary Islands). This sub region is one of the most extensive in the European Union and is therefore one of the least information available at the level of some of the MSFD Descriptors. It is, however, widely recognized that this sub region is home to high biological values.

The initial phases of the implementation of the MSDM for the Macaronesian sub region were carried out independently for each of the archipelagos and included the following:

  1. Initial assessment of the current state of the marine waters and the environmental impact of human activities in these waters;
  2. Definition of a set of characteristics corresponding to good environmental status;
  3. Establishment of a set of environmental targets and associated indicators;
  4. Establishment and implementation of a monitoring program for constant assessment and periodic updating of environmental targets;
  5. Elaboration of a program of measures aimed at the continuation or maintenance of good environmental status.


Taking into account that this initial phase was carried out independently by each Member State and taking into account Article 5 of the Directive which specifically mentions that neighbouring Member States should cooperate to ensure consistency and coordination between their marine strategies at the sub regional and regional levels.

As well as taking into account that the analysis of the results of the initial phase of the implementation of the MSFD has shown that Member States should endeavour to adopt common methodologies and approaches for determining good environmental status (GES).

For these reasons, the regional administrations of the Azores and Madeira, in coordination with Portuguese and Spanish national administrations, have joined efforts to strengthen a common approach and to implement cooperative instruments on marine environmental policies in the Macaronesian sub region.

The MISTIC SEAS project addresses the gaps detected in the initial assessment reports of the MSFD of the Azores, Madeira and the Canaries, in particular as regards data and scientific knowledge, attempting to review the determination of GES and environmental targets.

The great relevance of MISTIC SEAS is the conception / application of monitoring programs that can be applied across the three archipelagos of Macaronesia, focusing on three functional groups, namely birds, turtles and marine mammals.

The MISTIC SEAS project also focused on the design / development / implementation of an infrastructure for the storage and sharing of data between the two Member States.

Lastly, MISTIC SEAS had as its main objective the elaboration of an Action Plan, which included the development of best practice strategies for the implementation of the short-term MSFD (until 2018) in the Macaronesian sub region and functional groups.

Functional groups, i.e., marine mammals, marine reptiles and sea birds, were selected taking into account their common presence in the three archipelagos. The functional groups are constituted, mainly by species of wide reach and mobile. This approach allows a less subjective determination of good environmental status (GES), as it is based on shared functional groups, whose determination is addressed in a population target perspective and therefore depends on cooperation and coordination between Member States. In addition, the selected species, to be monitored, have a protection status under the Habitats and Birds Directives (Directive 92/43 and Directive 2009/147 / EC).