Knowledge for a better understanding and use of resources: the case of mapping the seafloor
Workshop "Knowledge for a better understanding and use of resources: the case of mapping the seafloor"
European Parliament, 7 February 2012
Commissioner Damanaki took part in the workshop "Knowledge for a better understanding and use of resources: the case of mapping the seafloor", hosted by the European Parliament Member Maria do Céu Patrão Neves.
Data and information gathered through seabed mapping can help define marine protected areas and help business to take informed decisions on investments in marine and maritime activities. These examples show how the mapping the seafloor is of importance both for the Common Fisheries Policy and the EU maritime policy.
Dear Mrs Neves, Members of Parliament, Professors, dear Guests,
Lack of accessible knowledge is a brake on the maritime economy. We are running out of land for food and energy and are increasingly looking to the sea. 39% of all new electricity generating capacity installed in Europe in 2009 was wind power. And 10 % of it was offshore and this proportion is growing.
Environmentalists tend to be in favour of windfarms; but not near their homes. So constructing them out at sea raises fewer protests. And, in any case, there is more wind. Advancing technologies and the benefits of scale bring down the extra costs of constructing away from the land. The European Wind Energy Association reckons that by 2020, 30% of new construction will be offshore and by 2030 - 60%.
The electricity grid infrastructure built for these windfarms will also make electricity generation from waves and tides more attractive, because it will lower their cost. Their development has been slower than for wind. But many of the technical challenges of keeping these devices running in salty water for 25 years are now solved. Their regular delivery of power complements the more unpredictable generation from wind.
These industries bring not only energy, but jobs also. Estimates from the industry suggest that there will be 296,000 employed in offshore wind in Europe by 2030 and 450,000 jobs in wave and tide by 2050.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I could mention other industries – aquaculture, deep-sea mining - but you get the picture. Marine and maritime activities are expanding and industry needs to know what is on the seafloor and in the water. Offshore operators need to plan the most suitable sites, to estimate the disturbance to marine life, to operate safely and to reduce the business risk.
The lack of data is not the main issue. Navies, hydrographic agencies, geological surveys, research institutes, coastal protection authorities have been gathering data for years. They currently spend more than one and a half billion euro a year on marine observation.
But it is hard to know who has the data. It takes much negotiation to obtain them. And assembling these fragmented data into coherent maps is always time-consuming and sometimes impossible.
We have estimated that unlocking this patrimony of data would result in cost-savings for European offshore activities of three hundred million euro a year.
And this does not take into account the inevitable increase in the marine economy as these new industries – energy, aquaculture, mining – expand.
Data open opportunities for new products and services. Up to now only those who hold data are able to provide services based on them. With easy access to data from a large pool of providers, researchers or small businesses will be able to offer new products.
I was impressed by the “SmartBay” project in Ireland, where a group of geophysicists are using video-game technology to visualise the seafloor. And where IBM is investigating whether acoustic sensors can identify and monitor marine mammals. I was speaking to its European chairman, Mr Harry van Dorenmalen, last year. He told me that IBM bets the company's future on adding value to data. I am also aware of the important research projects going on in the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries in the University of the Azores.
Better information will also help us protect sensitive habitats and rare species for future generations. The Common Fisheries Policy and Regional Fisheries Organisations accept that fisheries rules need to take into account the impact of fishing both on fish stocks and on the wider ecosystem. More precise data will help define areas where damaging fishing gear should be banned, or where marine protected areas should be set up.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For all these reasons we embarked on the "marine knowledge 2020" odyssey. 53 organisations – marine institutes, geological surveys and small companies – have come together to assemble these fragmented data and make them available on the internet.
We believe that the new Common Strategic Framework for EU's structural funding offers opportunities for filling some of these gaps. We will examine this possibility in a dedicated workshop on seabed mapping in the Azores under the framework of the Atlantic forum in November this year.
We also understand that a number of the hydrographic agencies, whose primary goal is the safety of navigation, are willing to sit down and talk about how their surveys and maps can contribute to this broader effort. The Commission is preparing a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Hydrographic Organisation to initiate this dialogue.
These will be the first steps towards a complete mapping of the European seabed by 2020. It will include water depth, sediments, minerals, chemical pollution and marine species.
We will begin a consultation process this summer. How do we ensure that the needs of industry are properly accounted for? Can we create a common framework for different EU initiatives – the European Marine Observation and Data Network; the Data Collection Framework in fisheries; The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security Initiative? Can data held by private companies as well as public bodies be included? We will be asking for your input.
Now it is time to push forward the mapping of the underwater world that we cannot see, but whose importance and future potential we are only now beginning to understand.
Thank you for your attention.