Towards a strategy to protect and conserve the marine environment

Communication from the European Commission COM(2002) 539

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The 6th Environment Action Programme (6th EAP) stipulates the development of a thematic strategy for the protection and conservation of the marine environment with the overall aim to promote sustainable use of the seas and conserve marine ecosystems, because the marine environment is subject to a variety of threats. These threats include loss or degradation of biodiversity and changes in its structure, loss of habitats, contamination by dangerous substances and nutrients and possible future effects of climate change. The related pressures include: commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration, shipping, water borne and atmospheric deposition of dangerous substances and nutrients, waste dumping, physical degradation of the habitat due to dredging and extraction of sand and gravel. While measures to control and reduce these pressures and impacts do exist, they have been developed in a sector by sector approach resulting in a patchwork of policies, legislation, programmes and action plans at national, regional, EU and international level, which contribute to the protection of the marine environment. At the EU level, there exists no overall, integrated policy for marine protection. At a global level the seas and oceans play key roles in climate and weather patterns. The oceans and seas also generate wealth, they provide important food resources and provide employment for a significant number of people. However, our oceans and seas are under threat: in some cases to the extent that their structure and function is being jeopardised. If our oceans and seas are not preserved their ecological capital will erode and the wealth generation and employment opportunities of future generations will be put at risk. The 6th EAP establishes a programme of Community action on the environment. It addresses the key environmental objectives and priorities based on an assessment of the state of the environment and of prevailing trends including emerging issues that require a lead from the Community. The Programme promotes the integration of environmental concerns in all Community policies and contributes to the achievement of sustainable development throughout the current and future enlarged Community. This programme represents the environmental dimension of the Community’s Strategy for Sustainable Development (SDS). The Strategy for Sustainable Development (SDS) builds upon the political commitment of the European Union: “to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”.