Towards a European Marine Research Area
There is growing recognition that Europe’s – and indeed, the world’s – future economic and physical well-being is inextricably linked to its oceans and seas. The marine sciences, therefore, have a crucial role to play in improving our understanding of this sub-aquatic environment and in guiding the practical application of research results for its sustainable management.
Basic research in many overlapping disciplines is needed and the scale of investment necessary, in terms of both human resources and infrastructure, is such that transnational joint co-operation will be crucial to progress.
Fortunately, co-operational structures in marine science already exist at European level. They should be further developed to achieve common European goals, and to confirm Europe’s position as a world leader in this field.
In May 2004, some 500 leading marine scientists, policy-makers and representatives of marine industries met in Galway, Ireland, to discuss the future of European marine research. The event – EurOCEAN 2004 – resulted in the ‘Galway Declaration’ which outlines what the marine science community sees as the principal challenges for the future. It also stresses the critical role that the European Research Area and the Commission’s proposed Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7) (2007-2013) should play in supporting world-class excellence in marine science and technology.
In this context, the Commission’s FP7 proposal makes specific reference to the marine sciences as a priority scientific area. Reflecting their interdisciplinary nature, marine issues will be addressed in several areas, including: ‘Life sciences and biotechnology’; ‘Sustainable management of resources’; ‘Environmental technologies’; and ‘Earth observation and assessment’.
The European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructure (ESFRI) has also made recommendations for integrating marine science in Europe, calling for better use of existing research mechanisms and coordination of research infrastructure. More specifically, it has recommended investment in a number of joint large-scale research infrastructure facilities: the European Deep Sea Neutrino Telescope, the Research Icebreaker (Aurora Borealis), a new marine vessel for coastal research in the Baltic Sea, and a European Multidisciplinary Seafloor Observatory (EMSO).
Understanding deep-water ecosystems
The HERMES Integrated Project (IP) is studying ecosystems along Europe's deep-ocean margin. One of the largest research projects of its kind, it brings together leading experts in biodiversity, geology, sedimentology, physical oceanography, microbiology and biogeochemistry, as well as experts in socio-economics. This represents the first major attempt to understand, in an integrated way, European deep-water ecosystems and their environment.
The MarinERA ERA-NET was set up to improve collaboration and coordination between national and regional marine research programmes. Involving partners from most of Europe’s maritime nations, MarinERA is also working with existing transnational initiatives to smooth the path towards a greater integration of European marine research, the sharing of infrastructures and pooling of resources.