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Sustainable seas: New report calls for ambitious action and flexible approach to protect marine sustainability | 21.01.16


Oceans and seas play a crucial role in regulating our climate, nurturing biodiversity, and providing income and food to people around the world. At COP21, governments across the globe agreed that we must set a more aggressive limit for global warming. This limit is one essential step toward a more stable relationship between the ocean and climate. But in spite of this positive direction, marine sustainability faces many challenges, according to a new report from the European Academies of Science Advisory Council and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, “Marine sustainability in an age of changing oceans and seas.” The report is available here.

Though the European Union has already agreed on an Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) and Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), scientific knowledge about marine environments is constantly evolving and many gaps and uncertainties continue to exist. It will be important for the European Union to be agile and flexible when integrating the scientists’ new discoveries in policy. It will also be critical to assess what level of human use and disturbance is acceptable. Equally, new practices such as deep-sea mining and marine renewable energy development need to be assessed in terms of risks and benefits, and this assessment needs to inform policy development. Sustainable aquaculture will also be a central area of research and development. Lastly, it will be crucial for the European Union and governments around the world to ensure that research on marine sustainability is sufficiently funded.

From the latest EASAC and JRC report, five main messages to the European Union emerge:

  1. Marine sustainability requires ecosystem-based management of human use of the sea. This management must be rooted in an integrated scientific understanding of marine species and habitats, their functions in marine ecosystems, and the ecological connections between different sea areas.  The European Union already supports such an approach in theory. However, policymakers must develop their policies in the context of scientific uncertainties, support efforts to develop improve integrated knowledge and capacities, and be ready to adapt policies in the light of new science.
  2. Policymakers and scientists need to work together to define what level of human use and disturbance is sustainable and apply this to managing the marine uses of the sea. Policies for new and increasing marine uses need to be informed by on-going analysis of the impacts of different policy options, assessing environmental costs and uncertainties. This is especially true for deep-sea mining and marine renewable energy development, whose effects on the marine ecosystem are not fully known.
  3. The need to feed growing human populations will require a shift to more ecologically efficient harvest of seafood. We need to learn more about ecologically efficient aquaculture. It will also be essential to explore shifting the harvesting of seafood from predatory fish to lower levels in the food chain, more akin to those currently harvested on land. This will be critical in the revision of the European Common Fisheries policy.
  4. Systems for monitoring and observing the marine environment need to be expanded to include wider and more varied range of biological observations. This monitoring will be especially important at key sites such as marine protected areas and in the deep oceans supported by improved data infrastructures. 
  5. EASAC calls for the establishment of a virtual European Marine University. This university will help to network and harmonise graduate training in integrated marine science. It would be part of a drive to train marine scientists capable of meeting the challenges of integrated ecosystem understanding.

According to Professor Jörn Thiede, chair of the EASAC working group on Marine Sustainability, “The European Union has made positive steps regarding marine sustainability, and yet a great deal of work remains if we are going to act aggressively against climate change and protect the biodiversity of oceans and seas. Policies must be put into practice, adequate funding for marine science must be provided, and a constant openness to new scientific findings must exist in the policy world. It is only through these steps that our marine environments can once again thrive.”

The report will be launched during a public event in Brussels on Monday, 25 January 2016 from 12.00 to 14.00 at the Palais des Academies, 1 Rue Ducale. More information can be found here.

EASAC is formed by the national science academies of the EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland, to collaborate in giving advice to European policy-makers. EASAC provides a means for the collective voice of European science to be heard. Through EASAC, the academies work together to provide independent, expert, evidence-based advice about the scientific aspects of European policies to those who make or influence policy within the European institutions.


Press contact:

European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC)

Ms Molly Hurley-Depret

EASAC Press Officer

Email: mhdepret@gmail.com

Phone: +352 691 112 882