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Overview

The seas and oceans cover over 70% of the earth’s surface and over 50% of the territory of the European Union stretching from the Arctic, through the Baltic, Atlantic, Mediterranean and the Black Sea. They are a major source of food, employment and economic income and a potential supply of as yet unknown mineral and biological resources. But the marine environment is under threat – primarily from over-exploitation, the intensification of human activities, and the effects of climate change.

The challenge for the future will be to ensure that we can continue to benefit from this precious resource, whilst protecting it for future generations. We can only do this by improving our understanding of the processes at work and continuously striving to improve the technologies we use to make them less invasive.

Danger! Marine ecosystems under threat

The marine environment is a major source of revenue and employment. It is estimated that as much as 5% of Europe’s gross domestic product (GDP) is derived from marine resources, and many communities depend on the sea for their livelihood. It is also an important source of food – Europe has the world’s second largest seafood deficit – it is a net importer – after Japan.

Growing pressure on fish stocks is posing a major threat to marine ecosystems. Technological advances have made it possible to fish practically every corner of our oceans and demand is such that overfishing is now a real problem globally. This, combined with the impact of pollution and other human activities (dredging, destruction of natural habitats, oil spills), is already producing marked changes in marine ecosystems.

On the crest of a wave

European scientists are at the forefront of marine-related research in a wide range of disciplines. The marine sciences are, moreover, a perfect example of an area in which transnational collaboration and combining resources is of crucial importance. The sea itself is a shared global resource and protecting it must be a collective task.

The European Union has played a major role in supporting this area of research – initially through the Marine Science and Technology (MAST) programmes, launched in 1989, and subsequently within the context of the Fifth and Sixth Research Framework Programmes. This momentum must now be built on and further developed if we are to face the challenges before us and reverse the present dangerous trend towards an irremediable degradation of the marine environment.

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