The challenges facing our seas and oceans

The challenges facing our seas and oceans

It is unquestionable that oceans around the world are languishing. Coastal marine ecosystems have been altered by centuries of human exploitation and abuse, and in recent decades this trend of degradation has been accentuated.

The European Union’s marine area under its jurisdiction is larger than its land area, and is the largest in the world including its peripheral regions (the Atlantic, Caribbean and Pacific territories and entities). Its waters are home to up to 48,000 different marine species.

The EU’s coastline, excluding the UK, is 56,000 kilometres long, and almost half of its population lives within 50 kilometres of the sea (most of them concentrated in urban areas along the coast).

Threats to our oceans

All these data highlight the importance of the sea, which faces significant threats to its habitats:

· Fishing and shipping pressures, leading to a loss of biodiversity.

· Agricultural and industrial chemical pollution (concentrations of some heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants in fish persist).

· Dense coastal urban development and tourism.

· Damage to the seabed from oil rigs or trawling. And oil spills from transport activities or refineries are a constant.

· Power transmission lines and mining activities.

· The spread of invasive non-native species, introduced mainly by shipping and the Suez Canal in the Mediterranean Sea.

· Climate change causes sea surface temperature and sea level to rise, causing marine and coastal species to change their geographical and seasonal distribution. In response to the increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, the Ph of the seas decreases and coral reefs in European overseas territories are damaged.

European initiatives to reverse the damage

The European Union is well aware of the fragility of the seas and oceans, and has therefore promoted a series of legislative initiatives to protect the management of freshwater and marine resources. In this article we highlight two because of their vital importance:

· The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) of 2008, which creates the European Marine Regions (Baltic Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and Atlantic Ocean. It has been amended several times and applies to waters, seabed and subsoil. A new EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030 was adopted in 2020, extending protected areas and creating strictly protected areas for the regeneration of fish stocks and habitats.

· The Water Framework Directive (WFD) of 2000 was created to unify the water management actions of EU member states. This directive creates a framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, groundwater and coastal waters. It also requires Member States to draw up river basin management plans and ensures the quality of drinking water. It marked a turning point in the understanding of water from a resource to a key factor in maintaining the quality of life.