The marine environment is indispensable to life itself. Oceans and seas cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain 90% of the biosphere. Marine ecosystems play a key role in climate and weather patterns, distribution of solar energy, carbon absorption and provide a number of other essential services. Protecting Europe’s seas effectively will make an essential contribution to our quality of life. The marine environment is also a great contributor to economic prosperity and social well-being.
Today we are witnessing a considerable loss of marine biodiversity in Europe and in other parts of the world due to contamination by dangerous substances, excess nutrients, the impact of commercial fishing or effects of climate change – to name just a few threats. These threats have multiplied in diversity and intensity over the past few years. If not addressed, they will continue to erode marine ecosystems and will put at risk the economic potential of maritime sectors such as fisheries and tourism.
Why is a strategy on the marine environment needed?
The strategy aims to ensure that all EU marine waters are environmentally healthy by 2021, so that people are able to benefit from seas and oceans that are safe, clean and rich in nature. A high level of protection of the marine environment is a precondition to realise the full economic potential of oceans and seas.
The sum of all existing measures and efforts, whether taken at international, EU or national level, is clearly not sufficient to protect Europe’s marine environment.
Apart from the legislation on preventing marine pollution, none of the EU policies affecting the marine environment (fisheries, transport, industry, agriculture, regional development, research, external relations) are specifically designed to protect it. Human activities impacting on the maritime environment have so far been addressed in a sector by sector manner rather than holistically.
The correct implementation of existing EU water protection laws (the urban waste water treatment directive, the nitrates directive, the water framework directive) will have a significant impact upon the input of nutrients and dangerous substances into our regional seas. However, even if stringently implemented or tightened up, existing EU legislation affecting the marine environment would leave significant problems unaddressed. For instance, marine species’ functional characteristics and ecosystem properties would be largely overlooked, although they are the key to a healthy marine environment.