Overall, oceans and seas contain more biological diversity than terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. Marine ecosystems play a key role in climate and weather patterns. Indispensable to life itself, the marine environment is also a great contributor to economic prosperity, social well-being and quality of life.

The need to understand and manage the worldwide marine environment and its ecosystem services is widely recognised in International, European Union and national marine policy documents and directives (UN GA/11065, 2011; Marine Strategy Framework Directive, Water Framework Directive, Horizon2020, etc).

The 57th UN General Assembly (2002) prioritised actions to enhance protection of the worldwide marine environment, from pollution, and to improve the scientific understanding and assessment of marine and coastal ecosystems; this, as a fundamental basis for sound decision-making for management purposes. Over the last 15 years progress has been made on a wide range of related activities and plans are now in place to undertake a global integrated assessment of the state of the marine environment (UN GA/11065, 2011). In light of the increasing concerns in relation to the state of Europe’s oceans and seas, the EU has established the EU Habitats Directive (1992), which seeks to conserve habitats and species including those that depend on the marine environment, the Water Framework Directive (2000), for the protection of inland surface waters, groundwater, transitional waters and coastal waters, and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2006), to promote sustainable use of the seas and protection and conservation of the marine environment. The need for such policies stems from the economic, social, and environmental importance of the maritime dimension in Europe; the vision is that of a Europe with a dynamic maritime economy in harmony with the marine environment supported by excellence in marine science (Communication from the Commission to the Council And the European Parliament, Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment, COM(2005)504 final, Brussels 24-10-2005). Since programmes of measures executed under marine strategies will be effective only if they are devised on the basis of a sound knowledge of the state of the marine environment, provision should be made for the preparation (at national level) of an appropriate framework; this includes marine research and monitoring operations, for informed policymaking. Support for associated research should be enshrined continuously in research and development policies.

OECD has recently recognised (The Ocean Economy in 2030, OECD 2016) that growth prospects for the ocean economy and its potential for employment creation will be successful only if ocean health is duly preserved. Companies, consultancies, agencies, and research institutions are committed to the compliance of international recommendations and conventions, together with European Directives and regulations. Both public and private sectors require high quality graduates, who can make a difference in the management of the marine environment. The growth of a number of marine industries over recent decades, such as offshore renewables and aquaculture, points to greater levels of exploitation and hence demand for trained staff who understand the marine environment.