Socio-economic background

The oceans are a large resource, which are fundamental to life; they constitute the largest three-dimensional ecosystem on Earth, most of which is unexplored. As such, there is a need to understand and manage the marine environment and its resources, living and non-living. As a growing global population challenges the ability of our society to produce food, water, and shelter, the oceans are looked to, to help sustain our basic needs. Advances in technology, combined with demand, will improve our ability to derive food, drinking water, energy sources, waste disposal, and transportation from the ocean. For this reason, the 57th UN General Assembly (2002) reviewed efforts for the sustainable development of marine resources including the conservation and management of marine living, and non-living resources. For example, it urged States to ensure the effective conservation, management and long-term sustainability of fisheries. Focus was addressed also to the protection and preservation of the marine environment and the prevention, reduction and control of pollution. The Assembly prioritised actions to enhance protection of the 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 10 years progress has been made on a wide range of related activities and plans are now in hand to undertake a global integrated assessment of the state of the marine environment (UN GA/11065, 2011).

Within the EU, a thematic strategy for the protection and conservation of the marine environment has been developed, with the overall aim of promoting sustainable use of the seas and conserving marine ecosystems. 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. Recognition of marine issues in the Seventh Framework Programme on Research and Development is an important step in that direction. Likewise the Common Fisheries Policy, which is the subject of future reform plans, will need to align with other Directives, such as the Marine Strategy Framework-Directive (2008), and make full use of the available science, if it is to deliver a sustainable future for the fishing industry.

The European Union has established a framework (Water Framework Directive, 2000) for the protection of inland surface waters, groundwater, transitional waters and coastal waters. This Framework-Directive has a number of objectives, such as: preventing and reducing pollution; promoting sustainable water usage; environmental protection; improving aquatic ecosystems; and mitigating the effects of floods and droughts. Its ultimate objective is to achieve “good ecological and chemical status” for all Community waters, by 2015. It also aligns closely with the EU Habitats Directive (1992) which seeks to conserve habitats and species including those that depend on the marine environment.