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Sound and independent information
on the environment

Marine and coastal environment

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Key messages
  • The 1995 Dobris report provided the first major review of the state of seas in the pan-European region, while the subsequent 2003 Kiev report focused only on some key issues. The overall picture in 2007 has hardly changed from that in 1995: pressures on the seas and coasts continue to be high.

  • Goods and services from pan-European marine and coastal ecosystems support major economic activities: In 2004, the EU‑15 marine industry had an estimated value of EUR 310 billion. This is additional to other, less obvious, services including climate change regulation, flood protection, nutrient cycling and harbouring a wide array of animal and plant species. All of these are put at risk if human activities are not well managed.

  • EU policies and action from regional sea conventions have led to improvements in water quality in the western seas. A single-issue approach is, however, not enough to halt or reverse the generally poor state of marine and coastal ecosystems. New EU policies, following an ecosystem-based approach such as the proposed Marine Strategy Directive, are now being developed or implemented. These policies offer an opportunity for the integration of existing measures.

  • The Black and Caspian Seas are generally in a poorer state than western seas. This is partly due to their natural vulnerability and partly because modern environmental policies have not been sufficiently introduced, adopted or implemented across the EECCA region. EU and global instruments can offer support to the development of such policies. In addition, EECCA countries have environmental opportunities to benefit from, as many of their coastal ecosystems remain unaffected by tourism, and water quality is not always under as much pressure from nutrient-intensive agricultural practices as in the EU.

  • Eutrophication remains a problem in all enclosed seas and sheltered marine waters across the pan-European region. There have been some improvements in the western seas, extending to the north-western shelf of the Black Sea, as a result of large cuts in point sources of nutrient pollution from industry and wastewater by EU‑15 Member States. However, diffuse nutrient sources, particularly from agriculture, remain a major obstacle for recovery and need increased control throughout Europe. EECCA countries need to both reduce point sources and prevent the export of nutrients to marine waters from further agricultural expansion and intensification.

  • Overfishing is still widespread in all pan‑European seas. Stocks in the North and Celtic Seas — and probably the Black Sea — are in the poorest condition, whereas stocks around Iceland and east Greenland are in the best. However, most commercial fish stocks are not assessed and fishing quotas tend to be beyond limits recommended by scientists. Improved fisheries policies and stricter enforcement are needed, especially to stop illegal fishing. There is evidence that fish stocks with high reproductive rates can recover where proper measures are implemented.

  • Destructive fishing practices continue, though it is hard to assess their extent. Bottom trawling keeps benthic ecosystems in a juvenile stage with low biodiversity. This also affects fish and the whole marine ecosystem negatively. By‑catch and the discard of non-target fish, birds, marine mammals and turtles also contribute to the large-scale impacts of fisheries on the ecosystem.

  • The wider impacts of increasing aquaculture were highlighted in the Kiev report, but still seem largely unresolved. Increased demand for fish feed from the growing mariculture industry adds to the already high global fishing pressures and appears to be an inefficient way of producing marine proteins for humans.

  • Measures taken to reduce concentrations of some well-known hazardous substances, such as heavy metals and certain persistent organic pollutants (POPs), have generally been successful in the western seas. Sparse data indicate high levels of hazardous substances, particularly POPs, in the Black and Caspian Seas. POPs, which can have serious detrimental effects on marine organisms, are transported over long distances and can be found even in the remote Arctic.

  • Major accidental oil spills have generally decreased in pan-European seas. However, oil discharges from regular activities, such as transport and refineries, are still significant along major shipping routes and at certain hot spots along coasts, for example in the Caspian Sea. Without effective countermeasures, the expected increase in oil transport, especially in the Arctic, Baltic, Black, Caspian and Mediterranean Seas, will add significantly to the risk of regional oil pollution.

  •  Alien species are a major cause of biodiversity loss and continue to invade all seas in the pan-European region mainly via ships' ballast water. The highest numbers are found in the Mediterranean Sea. The collapse of the Black Sea ecosystem in the 1990s demonstrates how alien species can aggravate other pressures and cause great economic losses.

  •  Population densities along the coasts of the pan-European region are high and continue to increase — with built-up areas growing at the expense of agricultural, semi-natural and natural land in all EU Member States. Tourism has played a crucial role, in particular along the Mediterranean coast, and is becoming a driver of development on the Black Sea coast. The EU Integrated Coastal Zone Management Recommendation has resulted in some beneficial initiatives in the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean Sea regions and should be extended to prevent further conflict of uses.

  • Climate change will very likely cause large scale alterations in sea temperature, sea level, sea-ice cover, currents and the chemical properties of the seas. Observed biological impacts include altered growing seasons, and shifts in species composition and distribution. Further impacts could also include the loss of marine organisms with carbonate shells as a result of acidification. Adaptation policies should include measures to reduce non‑climatic impacts in order to increase the resilience of marine ecosystems and the coastal zone to climate change.

  • Lack of comparable data across all seas still presents a major obstacle for pan‑European marine assessments, even of well-known problems such as eutrophication and overfishing. More and better data are needed to develop a pan-European marine protection framework that addresses environmental issues in a cost-effective way.

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100