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Towards a strategy to protect the marine environment

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1) OBJECTIVE

To start to formulate a thematic strategy to promote sustainable use of the seas and oceans and to conserve marine ecosystems all over the world.

2) ACT

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 2 October 2002 "Towards a strategy to protect and conserve the marine environment" [COM (2002) 539 final - Not published in the Official Journal]

3) SUMMARY

The 6th Environment Action Programme calls for the development of a thematic strategy for the protection and conservation of the marine environment. This communication from the Commission responds to that call and marks the first step towards such a strategy. The strategy will be developed in an open and collaborative process involving the Community institutions and relevant regional organisations and other stakeholders.

Current situation

The communication starts by taking stock of the environmental quality of the seas and oceans, particularly off Europe's coasts, giving both a summary and a more extensive description of the situation. It reports that the marine environment is under a series of pressures. These threats include loss or degradation of biodiversity, changes in the structure of the ecosystem, loss of habitats, contamination by dangerous substances and nutrients, and the potential consequences of climate change.

The related pressures include commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration, shipping, water-borne and atmospheric deposition of dangerous substances and nutrients, waste dumping and physical degradation of habitats due to dredging and extraction of sand and gravel.

The communication also reviews all the existing European Union policies and legislation on protection of the seas and oceans (see Annex 2). However, as most of these cover specific issues or geographic areas, the only conclusion which can be drawn is that there is no integrated policy to protect the marine environment. Other conventions, organisations and regional or international agreements in this field are also reviewed (see Annex 4).

Utmost importance is attached to the knowledge base on the marine environment. Big gaps are identified:

  • how is biodiversity affected by human-induced changes and natural processes and what is the recovery potential and speed once the drivers of the impact have been reduced or eliminated;
  • how does the change in species diversity and structure influence marine ecosystems;
  • more reliable and accurate data are needed on fisheries management and the implications, on chemicals and on industrial discharges into the sea, nutrient inputs and radioactive substances;
  • there is an urgent need for mapping of marine biodiversity.

Annex 3 to the communication contains an overview of the research in progress on the marine environment. It focuses on monitoring, assessment, and reporting and handling data and information.

The communication concludes that a large number of problems have yet to be fully addressed and that major threats still persist despite the work over the last three decades. Some significant improvements have been achieved in the quality of European seas and the trends towards worsening pollution have been halted and in some cases reversed.

Objectives of the strategy

After reviewing the current situation, the Commission proposes an ambitious, clear and coherent set of objectives with a view to promoting sustainable use of the seas and conserving marine ecosystems.

The overarching objective proposed for the strategy to protect the marine environment is, therefore, to promote sustainable use of the seas and conservation of marine ecosystems, particularly sites of high biodiversity value.

Other sectoral objectives are also set for this strategy, covering biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, discharges of hazardous substances, eutrophication, radioactive substances, oil pollution, litter, maritime transport, health, climate change, research and closer coordination.

Putting the strategy into action

The communication then goes on to state that the activities to achieve these objectives should include the following components:

  • development of a coherent marine policy by moving towards an ecosystem-based approach building on the existing policies;
  • improving implementation and integrated enforcement of both existing and new legislation;
  • mechanisms and action aimed at facilitating coordination of these measures and coordination of the different organisations and other stakeholders;
  • initiatives to improve knowledge on past trends in and likely future scenarios for the quality status of European seas and the procedures and methodologies to assess this information;
  • promotion of use of and improvement of coordination between the different funding instruments for the protection of the marine environment;
  • application of these strategic elements both regionally and globally.

The communication also proposes specific activities in each of the sectors covered.

4) IMPLEMENTING MEASURES

5) FOLLOW-UP WORK

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 24 October 2005, "Thematic strategy on the protection and conservation of the marine environment" [COM(2005) 504- Not published in the Official Journal]
The Commission is proposing a common framework and objectives for the protection and conservation of the marine environment. In order to achieve these common objectives, Member States will have to evaluate requirements in the marine areas for which they are responsible. They will then have to draw up and implement coherent management plans in each region, and then monitor their application.

Last updated: 10.05.2006
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