‘Urgent action’ needed to protect Europe’s seas, agency says

Persistent overfishing, pollution and erosion caused by global heating have remain largely unaddressed despite an EU directive adopted in 2008 requiring EU countries to achieve clean and healthy seas by 2020. [olenalavrova / Shutterstock]

Seas across Europe are in “generally poor” condition, according to a report by the European Union’s environment agency, published on Thursday (25 June).

The poor condition of European seas is “bad news for people” whose livelihoods and economy directly depends on healthy marine ecosystems, the agency warned in its report ‘Marine Messages II’.

“The condition of our seas determines their capacity to supply, amongst others, oxygen, food, a habitable climate, and certain raw materials, and it also supports our recreation, leisure and health,” the EEA said in a statement.

But persistent overfishing, pollution and erosion caused by global heating have remain largely unaddressed despite an EU directive adopted in 2008 requiring EU countries to achieve clean and healthy seas by 2020.

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It is now clear that EU countries will miss the deadline and fail to meet the legally binding objective, said a coalition of environmental NGOs.

“Coasts and seas remain plagued by the harmful impacts of ever-growing maritime sectors and land-based plastic, agricultural, industrial and household pollution”, says Nils Höglund, Marine and Fisheries Policy Officer at Coalition Clean Baltic, an environmental pressure group.

Discharges of industrial farming products into rivers affect the chemical composition of seas, the EEA said, adding those problems are compounded by climate change.

79% of the EU’s coastal seabed is damaged by bottom-trawling, up to 53% of sharks, rays and skates are threatened by bycatch and marine mammals’ condition has been in sharp decline since 2009, the report says.

For environmental NGOs, it is high time that Europe wakes up to the emergency.

“EU seas are in a dire state, yet member states keep tinkering around the edges of what is needed to make substantial progress,” says Alice Belin, senior marine policy officer at Seas At Risk.

“With the 2020 deadline missed, we expect EU countries to adopt as soon as possible even more ambitious measures to make up for lost time. And if they are lacking inspiration, we encourage them to look at the NGO’s Blue Manifesto the rescue plan to save the ocean by 2030.”

“We need cross-governmental task forces put in place to have a fair chance at tackling all the cumulative pressures on our seas and ocean,” Höglund said.

For Hans Bruyninckx, the EEA’s Executive Director, there is still a chance to put things right.

“We still have a chance to restore our marine ecosystems if we act decisively and coherently and strike a sustainable balance between the way we use of seas and our impact on the marine environment,” Bruyninckx said.

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