EU Science Hub

Changing oceans and seas: marine sustainability assessment

Cover illustration: Sea surface temperature in European seas
©National Oceanography Centre, UK/Marine Systems Modelling/Andrew Coward.
Jan 25 2016

The health of the oceans and coastal seas is vital for the future well-being of Europe, and globally. Livelihoods of 3 billion people worldwide are linked to marine and coastal biodiversity. A new report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) and the JRC stresses the importance of integrated management of marine and coastal resources to promote their conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way.

In the past 10 years, there has been an increased focus on marine and maritime governance both in the European Union, and beyond. The key challenge to address is how to achieve a sustainable use of the oceans, ensuring preservation of marine goods and services, while meeting the demands of a growing human population. The EU Integrated Maritime Policy as well as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Common Fisheries Policy

promote an increasingly coherent approach to maritime issues, with increased coordination between different policy areas.

The authors of the report make a series of recommendations to foster the development and implementation of policy and science underpinning marine sustainability. They emphasise the importance of ecosystem-based management. Policy makers must recognise that scientific knowledge about marine environments is constantly evolving, and many gaps and uncertainties continue to exist. Policy implementation must be adaptable and open to the integration of new scientific progress. They also call on using the revised Common Fisheries Policy to bring current fisheries exploitation to sustainable levels, following scientific advice on fisheries management and stock recovery. 

In addition, the report contains recommendations on how to organise and focus marine science to optimise its availability and usefulness for policy makers. The authors suggest that, at the EU level, Horizon 2020 should be used as a key mechanism for improving marine knowledge to support the EU legislation in this field. The recommendations include, among others, building knowledge on increasing the ecological efficiency of ocean harvests as well as the implementation of a sustained European strategy for marine ecosystem observation, accompanied by enhanced EU data collection and dissemination frameworks.

The experts recommend a greater coordination of structures that stimulate and fund European marine research programmes. They call for a strengthening of human capacity by establishing a European marine university which would coordinate a coherent and sustained Europe-wide marine science curriculum. Last but not least, the authors see a need for building greater awareness among the EU population on marine topics.

The EASAC-JRC report was prepared by a working group of experts drawn from the National Science Academies of the EU Member States, and supported by the JRC. This document will contribute to the further development and implementation of European Union marine and maritime policy, as well as the organisation of supporting science needed to inform and guide these policies.

The report was presented and discussed during a dedicated event: Marine sustainability in an age of changing oceans and seas: JRC-EASAC report launch.