Increasing protection: Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas | WWF

Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) provide a mechanism for strict control on international shipping activities in national waters. Countries can declare such areas, and then establish rules for their protection.

Putting controls on international shipping

Coastal nations have only a limited ability to impose and enforce their national environmental and navigation regulations on foreign ships passing through their waters - even in marine parks and reserves.

PSSAs do not prevent shipping within the designated area, but rather place specific controls to limit potential damage. These can include avoiding certain areas, the use of compulsory routes, bans on discharging waste, and compulsory reporting of shipping activities.

Campaign successes

WWF campaigns contributed to the designation of the Baltic Sea, Canary Islands, Galapagos Islands and Western European Waters PSSAs.

We are continuing our efforts to persuade the Russian Federation to add its waters to the Baltic Sea PSSA, and for the Norwegian and Russian governments to declare a PSSA within the Barents Sea. In addition, we are working to develop PSSA proposals for the Mediterranean Sea and the Sulu Sulawesi Sea in the Philippines.

We are also working on the implementation of the new PSSAs. For example, we are encouraging Baltic Sea states to develop effective measures to strengthen the safety of shipping in the Baltic Sea, such as establishing strictly separated shipping traffic lanes and setting up compulsory pilotage systems.

Why are PSSAs needed?

Shipping can cause a lot of damage to marine ecosystems. Some of the busiest shipping routes pass across or near important and sensitive habitats such as coral reefs, seamounts, seagrass meadows, and kelp forests.

What is a PSSA?

A Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) is an area of the marine environment that needs special protection through action by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) because of its recognized significance for ecological, socio-economic, or scientific reasons, which may be vulnerable to damage by international shipping activities.

Better protection for the Galapagos Islands

Free of humans and many other predators for almost all of their history, the Galapagos Islands have developed unique forms of life, highly adapted to their harsh surroundings and ecological isolation from the rest of the world. 

But the islands are no longer so isolated. Today they lie in the path of busy shipping routes to and from the western coast of Central and South America.

Prior to their designation as a PSSA, the islands saw several oil spills, the worst of which was from the Jessica tanker in 2001. Further spills would only further threaten the islands' 5,000 species - almost half of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

The designation of the waters of the Galapagos Islands as a PSSA provides much need protection against oil spills and other impacts from shipping.
Marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) - the only sea-going lizard in the world, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

© WWF / Martin HARVEY