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The European continent is surrounded by different seas and diverse coastal zones that are essential to society, economy and nature in general. Climate change, pollution and over-exploitation are among the top threats these areas face. Europe has put in place measures to protect its seas, resulting in some local improvements.
Climate change’s ‘deadly trio’ for the seas
Climate change affects marine life negatively mainly through its ‘deadly trio’ of making seawater warmer, more acidic, and less rich in oxygen. This summer, global sea surface temperatures were record high and Europe’s regional seas experienced several marine heatwaves.
Recent research indicates that climate change could be responsible for up to half of the combined impacts on marine ecosystems.
85% of the bathing sites in Europe have excellent water quality
Be it a lake in Finland, an Aegean island or the Copenhagen harbour, every year millions of Europeans are enjoying a dip in the water.
Thanks to EU legislation and effective implementation by Members States, the bathing water quality improved significantly over the last four decades. Today more than 95% of bathing sites meet the minimum standards set by EU legislation.
Maritime transport and life under the surface
Maritime transport is estimated to have contributed to the fact that underwater noise levels in EU waters have more than doubled between 2014 and 2019 and has been responsible for half of all non-indigenous species introduced into European seas since 1949. However, even though the volume of oil transported by sea has been steadily increasing, only eight accidental medium to large oil tanker spills out of a worldwide total of 62 occurred in EU waters over the past decade.
These are only a few of the impacts of the maritime sector on Europe's marine ecosystems. Our joint report with the European Maritime Safety Agency provides a comprehensive analysis.
Marine litter: Where does it come from?
There are no surprises: land-based sources account for a massive 80% of marine litter in Europe, and approximately 85% of it is plastic, according to the EEA web report ‘From source to sea — The untold story of marine litter. Packaging and small plastic items make up nearly 80% of this plastic waste.
The new EEA report is the first Europe-wide study of its kind taking a holistic look at how this litter is created and ends up in our European seas via our rivers.
Explore WISE Marine for data and information on marine ecosystems.
Are Europe's seas clean, healthy and productive?
The use of Europe's seas — both in the past and today — is taking its toll on the overall condition of marine ecosystems. This puts expectations for their future use at odds with the long‑term policy vision for clean, healthy and productive seas.
Signs of stress are visible at all scales — from changes in the composition of marine species and habitats to a shift in the seas' overall physical and chemical characteristics. Looking closer at the overall condition of marine biodiversity in Europe, some worrying conclusions emerge:
- Almost all marine species groups appear to be in bad condition throughout Europe’s seas, with mixed recovery trends.
- For many species and habitats, there is too little information available to analyse their status or identify whether they are on track towards recovery.
- While some species are recovering, Europe’s marine ecosystems appear to be in decline overall.