Commissioner for the Environment Stavros Dimas said, “The oceans and seas are a source of life on our planet. They cover almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface and contain some 90% of the biosphere. Their protection is essential to the future of our planet. Pollution of our seas and destructive fishing practices are anathema to that. Our oceans and seas also play a strategic role in sustaining climate and weather patterns, distributing solar energy, and absorbing carbons.”
Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Joe Borg commented, “Our objective is to ensure the sustainability of our present and future sea-related activities through the wise use of the oceans and seas. The evidence in favour of a more integrated approach to their management becomes more compelling every day. By providing a more coherent and all-embracing approach to these activities, the new EU maritime policy will be key to meeting this objective.”
Protecting the marine environment
The European Union is strongly committed to the protection of oceans and seas. In 2005 the Commission proposed a Thematic Strategy for the protection and conservation of the marine environment which included a proposed Marine Strategy Directive. The aim of the directive is to ensure that all EU marine waters are environmentally healthy by 2021 so that Europeans are able to benefit from seas and oceans that are safe, clean and rich in biodiversity. The sum of all existing measures and efforts at international, EU or national level is clearly not sufficient to protect Europe’s marine environment. A strong and integrated EU policy on marine protection is therefore required. The directive is due to be adopted by Council in 2008.
Oceans and seas are also at the heart of the European Union’s strategies to combat and adapt to climate change. Increasing temperatures and climate change are causing the transformation of sea-ice systems and sea levels to rise. These changes must be addressed urgently to avert disastrous consequences to the eco-system and indigenous communities in regions such as the arctic. The European Commission will address such issues in the Green Paper on Adaptation to Climate Change it will publish this month.
An integrated Maritime Policy
The Marine Strategy will constitute the environmental pillar of the integrated Maritime Policy on which the European Commission will soon conclude a-year long consultation exercise. The maritime sector is one of the most dynamic in the EU economy and also one of the most complex. It comprises a wide range of activities such as shipping, fishing, offshore energy, coastal tourism, aquaculture, submarine telecommunications, environmental conservation, and marine biotechnology. These activities are often carried out with minimal coordination both on the ground and at policy level.
The health of the marine environment is a key aspect of the Common Fisheries Policy. Further progress is, however, still needed to make European fisheries more sustainable. Earlier this year, the European Commission presented a policy proposal to progressively eliminate discarding in European fisheries. The Commission is continuing to build on the 2006 United Nations resolutions to outlaw destructive fishing practices in sensitive marine environments in the High Seas and will soon propose measures to achieve this.
In the autumn, the Commission will also present a package to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, one of the most important threats to both fish stocks and the marine environment. Work also continues on meeting the commitment made by the EU Member States at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002 to maintain or restore fish stocks to levels that will produce a Maximum Sustainable Yield no later than 2015. Additional initiatives are in the pipeline as part of the integration of environmental and biodiversity concerns in the CFP, such as an Action plan to avoid accidental catches of sea birds and the extension of the Natura 2000 network to marine areas.
World Oceans Day
World Oceans Day was created in order raise awareness of the importance of the world’s oceans and their contribution to wildlife and life on Earth and how they can be preserved. The Day typically consists of educational activities organised across the various continents. It was first celebrated in 1992.