European Seas Face Grave Danger

EU – A recent assessment by the European Environment Agency (EEA) showed that the continuous changes related to over-exploitation of natural resources, causing biodiversity loss, climate change and other human activities that continue to increase, are leading to a degradation of marine ecosystems and the services and benefits provided by them.

Sea surface temperature is increasing ten times faster in the last 25 years, oxygen depletion (hypoxia) is affecting marine life and ocean acidification is going faster in recent decades: the combined effects of these three major effects decrease the overall resilience of marine ecosystems and make them more vulnerable. 

The new report Marine messagespublished in february paints a worrying picture of Europe’s seas. However climate change is the major indirect pressure on the marine environment because it makes marine ecosystems more sensitive to other pressure like transport, industry, fishing, offshore energy and tourism, seafloor damage, pollution by nutrient enrichment and contaminants that can ultimately lead to an irreversible degradation. This is a challenge and Europe has the responsibility to face it, starting from citizen Acknowledgement that provides an overview of the many challenges: our seas are our future and it is essential moving towards a new understanding starting to be conscious of at least ten important facts about the ecosystems beneath the weaves.

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), is a key component of the EU’s policy response to these challenges. The Directive, adopted in 2008, with the aim of protecting and managing our seas and oceans in a sustainable way, sets an ambitious objective but the problems still remain and the situation need to be improved to reach the 2020 EU goal for healthy and productive seas: starting to coordinate better the Member states.

Here are the top ten topics that everyone should know about seas ecosystems:

  1. Acidification from CO2 changing habitats: ocean acidification, associated with the majority of mass extinction events over the last 540 million years, combined with sea surface temperature, oxygen depletion, has occurred a hundred times faster than during past natural events over the previous 55 million years: pH has reduced from 8.2 to 8.1 over the industrial era, making the seas 26 % more acidic. Increased sea surface temperature, acidification and hypoxia are all associated with the majority of mass extinction events over the last 540 million years.

  2. Climate change also harming ecosystems. Sea surface temperature has increased 10 times the average rate since records began in 1870.

  3. Coasts are a habitat for humans. Many EU citizens live in coastal regions, marine and coastal areas have long been drivers of economic growth: maritime activities employ 5.4 million people and have a gross added value of € 330-485 billion. 

  4. Eutrophication pressures, particularly in the Baltic and Black seas. Nutrient emissions in the Baltic seem to be decreasing overall, although problems of eutrophication and related hypoxia have not declined: coastal eutrophication contributes to ecosystem degradation. 

  5. Growing demands on the seas. Tourism and recreation in coastal areas are predicted to increase. A number of maritime activities like offshore renewable energy and shipping are growing and we have to manage them in a sustainable way. 

  6. Large animals disappearing from Europe’s marine regions. Marine ecosystems are under pressure: larger-bodied animals and top predators are particularly impacted by these pressures, and are disappearing throughout Europe’s marine regions. For the Baltic Sea, HELCOM concluded in 2010 that ‘the status of biodiversity appears to be unsatisfactory in most parts of it. 

  7. Overfishing is still a problem. Overfishing, a chronic problem in European seas , affected ecosystem structure and functioning. It reduces biodiversity by targeting commercial fish and shellfish and accidentally killing invertebrates, mammals, seabirds and turtles: 39 % of the assessed stocks in the North East Atlantic and 88 % of assessed stocks in the Mediterranean and Black seas were overfished in 2013.

  8. Species, habitats and ecosystems already impacted and in poor health: Overall, less than 20 % of habitats and ecosystems are reported to be in good status. Marine species fared even worse with only 3 % of assessments classified as favourable and 70 % were unknown. Biodiversity is the “fabric of life”: loss of biodiversity leads to loss of resilience.

  9. There is an increasing quantity of litter in the ocean: plastic packaging waste, sanitary waste, smoking-related material, and fishing-related material. The EEA has created a mobile application to help this problem, the Marine Litter Watch, that combines citizen engagement and modern technology to help the problem of marine litter.

  10.  Data gaps: Member State reporting under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive is patchy, only covering two thirds of the EU sea area. There are other gaps and many elements are still largely unknown or poorly understood. More research is needed to improve understanding of the interactions between species, habitats and cumulative impacts. 

    During the Hope marine conference on 3-4 march 2014, Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director said: “The rich life in Europe’s seas is an incredible asset. But we must ensure that this asset is used in a sustainable way, without surpassing the limits of what the ecosystems can provide. The current way we use the sea risks irreversibly degrading many of these ecosystems”. At the close of the conference was issued the “Declaration of HOPE.

    The final question is: are we really equipped to respond to these challenges?

    Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment, answered: “We must cooperate more closely if we are to understand the marine environment. It has been said that we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the deep sea”.



Olivia Terragni

I'm a journalist who has studied architecture or an architect who writes. I've a Master's Degree in History and Philosophy and a Master's Degree in Architecture. I developed my expertise is in Energy Saving, International Environmental Law, Urban Planning and Sustainable Water Management. As an architect I trust in sustainable living, as a historian in human development and in cooperation.

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