Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment

Communication from the European Commission COM(2005) 504

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The marine environment is a precious asset. Oceans and seas provide 99% of the available living space on the planet, cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain 90% of the biosphere and consequently contain more biological diversity than terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. Marine ecosystems play a key role in climate and weather patterns. Indispensable to life itself, the marine environment is also a great contributor to economic prosperity, social well-being and quality of life. However, the marine environment is under significant pressure. The pace of degradation of its biodiversity, the level of contamination by dangerous substances and the emerging consequences of climate change are some of the most visible warning signals. The recently released UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment highlighted depleted fish stocks and harmful algal blooms leading to the destruction of marine life as two of the most significant examples of accelerating, abrupt and potentially irreversible changes to ecosystems. In light of the increasing concerns in relation to the state of Europe’s oceans and seas, the EU’s 6th Environment Action Programme included a commitment to develop a Thematic Strategy for the protection and conservation of the marine environment (hereinafter the Strategy) with the overall aim “to promote sustainable use of the seas and conserve marine ecosystems”. While the Strategy is primarily focused on the protection of the regional seas bordered by EU countries, it also takes into account the international dimension in recognition of the importance of reducing the EU’s footprint in marine areas in other parts of the world, including the High Seas. The Strategy is to be seen within the broader context of the development of a new EU Maritime Policy. The need for such a policy stems from the economic, social, and environmental importance of the maritime dimension in Europe, as underlined in the Commission Strategic objectives for 2005-2009. The vision is that of a Europe with a dynamic maritime economy in harmony with the marine environment supported by excellence in marine science. A Green Paper will be presented in the first half of 2006 defining the scope and main orientations of this policy. The Strategy will directly contribute to the work on the future EU Maritime Policy. The initiatives being taken by the EU on maritime affairs reflect an increasing recognition of both the importance and the sensitivity of marine ecosystems. A number of EU and non-EU countries have launched major policy initiatives in recent years. These policies all take as their starting point that a high level of protection of the marine environment is a sine qua non to realise the full economic potential of oceans and seas.

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