Europe is woefully behind in its ambition of achieving a ‘good environmental status’ of our seas by 2020, according to a report published today by the European Environment Agency.

Only 4% of the marine species and habitats assessed have achieved the 2020 target of ‘good’ status.

A range of human-induced pressures are affecting the state of marine ecosystems directly. These pressures include

  • Physical loss and damage to the seafloor
  • The capture of fish and shellfish
  • The introduction of non-indigenous species
  • Pollution entering from land and the atmosphere
  • Marine litter
  • Underwater noise
Fish by Tim Nicholson - Bib
Photo by Tim Nicholson

Some of these pressures are showing signs of improvement. For example, since 2007 fishing pressure has been brought down back to sustainable levels for an increasing number of stocks in the North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea.

The report reveals many distressing statistics

  • Only 9% of the marine habitats assessments are in ‘favourable conservation status’ compared to 66% in ‘unfavourable conservation status’.
  • Just 2% of of the assessed commercial stocks in Europe’s seas are in ‘good environmental status’. 58% are not in a good environmental state with the status of 40% of stocks not assessed due to lack of data.
  • In the Mediterranean Sea, 67% of resident marine mammal species, 42% of sharks, rays, and skates and more than 8% of native marine fish species are considered threatened.
  • 30–50% of the cold-water coral reefs found in Norwegian waters have been damaged to an observable extent by trawling.
  • Oxygen depletion in the Baltic Sea is ten times worse than a century ago, with hypoxic areas now covering some 60 000 km2 or 15% of the Baltic Sea. This development is in keeping with the global trend, whereby the area of dead zones due to hypoxia has doubled every decade since 1960s.

Environmental organisations like Oceana are concerned at the report.

Our seas cannot sustain the current pressure of human activities for much longer. It is not only for the sake of the environment, but also for our own – by pushing marine ecosystems to the limit, we are also gambling with our food security and economic growth,” said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director for Oceana in Europe. “The message to EU leaders is clear: with less than five years to bring our seas back to health, there is no time for dithering and delaying.

The report shows that Europe’s seas cannot be considered healthy, clean and undisturbed today and are unlikely to become so in the future given the current trends. This will also affect their future capacity to remain productive for supporting the growing ‘blue’ economy.

Further Reading

State of Europe’s Seas, European Environment Agency

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