Maria Damanaki answers to children's "message in a bottle"
As part of the celebrations for the European Maritime Day in Gothenburg, the initiative "Message in a bottle" offered to a dozen children the opportunity to ask to Commissioner Maria Damanaki, to the Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek and to Anneli Hulthén, Mayor of Gothenburg, questions about the sea.
As promised, Commissioner Damanaki answers to "Won't we run out of fish if we catch too many?", "Is it possible to create a protected area for sea animals where they can't be hunted?" and the other questions she received
Won't we run out of fish if we catch too many?
Contrary to what people believed in the past, we now know that fish are a perfectly exhaustible natural resource. This means that there are only so many fish in our oceans. If we continue fishing in an uncontrolled way without giving them the time necessary to reproduce, there will surely come a time when our seas would be deserted.
How many types of sharks are there?
Sharks are an ancient species, firstly appearing in the oceans 350 to 400 million years ago. Sharks are spread across eight different orders and each order contains several families of sharks. Each family may be further subdivided in several other types of sharks, called shark species. Up until now scientists have identified over 400 of shark species in the world, each with its particular characteristics. Therefore, sharks are an extremely diversified group of sea animals and our goal is to protect as many of them as we can. We proposed new rules to ban the practice of 'finning', so that sharks are not killed just for their fin and then thrown back at sea. This would be a first step to that direction as it will allow us to better monitor and regulate the exact amount of sharks that is being fished in European waters.
Is it possible to create a protected area for sea animals where they can't be hunted?
It is, and it has been done. These are generally called Marine Protected Areas and they are an important tool for the safeguard not only of marine species but of the marine environment as well. We have taken an active stance in this matter, firstly with the creation of a network of protected areas (the "Natura 2000" network) and subsequently with the Common Fisheries Policy Regulation, which calls on our member States to create in their maritime zones areas and/or periods in which fishing activities are prohibited or restricted. Sharing a common vision with our member States is also extremely important, as only together we can achieve effective results. The government of Sweden in particular has been an indispensable partner and I would like to note our close and fruitful cooperation. In the international plain, we have also maintained close collaboration with other international organisations that seek to establish a network of Marine Protected Areas outside the areas of jurisdiction of our member States.
What is done to make people paint their boats with less toxic paint?
Throughout maritime history people have used certain substances and paints to prevent sea-life attaching to ships' hulls and to thusly prolong the vessel's operational life. Some of these substances have however proven to be extremely toxic and harmful for the wider marine habitat. Legislation against such substances was first enacted in 2001 under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) with the adoption of the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Antifouling Systems on Ships. The European Union, being a fierce advocate of the protection of marine ecosystems, quickly transposed this Convention into its legislation. Thus, as from July 1, 2003, toxic substances and paints are strictly prohibited on all EU vessels as well as on non-EU vessels visiting European waters. The same prohibition applies to the use and marketing of such substances. Finally, to ensure compliance, we have also put in place rigorous inspection schemes.
What is most dangerous for the marine environment and what can I do to help save our seas and water resources?
I would identify three threats for the marine environment; overfishing, pollution and ocean acidification. Each has different causes and presents unique challenges. Overfishing is caused by uncontrolled and unchecked fishing activities and threatens to gradually depopulate our oceans, to destroy biodiversity and to deprive us of an important food source. Marine pollution is caused not only by shipping but also from land-based activities, threatening at times the very existence of marine ecosystems. Ocean acidification is a result of climate change and of increased greenhouse gas emissions. The oceans absorb more CO2 than before which changes their consistency and affects fish and other marine life by compromising their ability to breathe, reproduce and fight diseases. Scientists are also concerned that an increased acidification of the oceans will also result in the oceans becoming a CO2 source, contributing to global warming.
We are determined to tackle these threats effectively, through strict regulation, rigorous inspection schemes and ambitious mitigating strategies. But we should not be alone. You can help us in your way. Eat fish that have been caught in a sustainable way. This means species that that have a healthy population, and whose harvest minimizes by-catch and impacts on the environment. Use items made from biodegradable materials. For instance, plastic that reaches the oceans rests there for hundreds of years leaching toxins and threatening marine life. Help against climate change and reduce you carbon footprint by being more energy-efficient.
How does the water cycle work?
The water cycle contains four stages. The energy from the sun heats the water up turning it into vapour (evaporation). Evaporation takes place all over the world but especially in the oceans and lakes. Water vapour is lighter than the air so it rises high up into the atmosphere, where it cools off and condenses into water droplets or, if it becomes extremely cold, into ice crystals. As the water droplets or ice crystals grow bigger and more numerous, they form clouds (condensation). Eventually the concentrated water droplets or ice crystals become too heavy to stay in the air and they fall to the earth as rain or snow respectively (precipitation). Sometimes the rain freezes before it reaches the earth and precipitates as hail. Finally, the water that has precipitated gathers into streams and rivers that flow to the lakes and oceans (runoff), starting the water cycle all over again.