Ten things everyone should know about Europe's productive seas

News Published 03 Mar 2014 Last modified 17 Jul 2017
2 min read
Photo: © Felix Sanchez Villarejo
A recent assessment by the European Environment Agency (EEA) showed that European seas are in a worrying state. As policy makers meet to discuss the marine environment that sustains maritime development, the EEA summarises ten important facts about the ecosystems beneath the waves.

The messages come from a recent EEA briefing, which aims to support the Healthy Oceans, Productive Ecosystems (HOPE) conference taking place from 3-4 March, 2014.

  1. Coasts are a habitat for humans: More than two fifths of EU citizens live in coastal regions, while the catchments feeding directly into European seas are home to 660 million people. Maritime activities employ 5.4 million people and have a gross added value of € 330-485 billion.
  2. Growing demands on the seas: Tourism and recreation in coastal areas is predicted to increase. Similarly, offshore renewable energy and shipping are both expected to grow. Young industries such as algae production and undersea mining may also increase in coming years. Better information could help to manage these activities in a sustainable way.
  3. Species, habitats and ecosystems already impacted and in poor health: Overall, less than 20 % of habitats and ecosystems are reported to be in good status. Marine species fared even worse with only 3 % of assessments classified as favourable and 70 % were unknown.
  4. Large animals disappearing from Europe's marine regions. For example, in the entrance to the Baltic, Bluefin tuna disappeared in the 1960s, while European eel populations are now around 1-7 % of what they once were.
  5. Overfishing still a problem. The number of fish stocks being exploited at sustainable levels has increased since 2007, particularly in EU Atlantic and Baltic waters. Nonetheless, 39 % of the assessed stocks in the North East Atlantic and 88 % of assessed stocks in the Mediterranean and Black seas were overfished in 2013.  
  6. Eutrophication pressures, particularly in the Baltic and Black seas. Nutrient emissions in the Baltic seem to be decreasing overall, although problems of eutrophication and related hypoxia have not declined a corresponding amount due to internal nutrient cycling within the sea. In the Black Sea conditions are largely unknown.
  7. There is an increasing quantity of litter in the ocean, mostly made up of plastic waste. This waste sometimes originates hundreds of kilometres from the sea. It can harm marine animals, and may end up in human food. The EEA has created a new mobile phone app to help monitor this problem.
  8. Climate change also harming ecosystems. Over the last quarter century, sea surface temperature has increased at approximately 10 times the average rate since records began in 1870.
  9. Acidification from CO2 changing habitats: pH has reduced from 8.2 to 8.1 over the industrial era, making the seas 26 % more acidic. For comparison this is approximately 100 times faster than over the previous 55 million years.
  10. Yet there are still data gaps: Member State reporting under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive is patchy, only covering two thirds of the EU sea area. There are other gaps – for example, little is reported on the status of marine invertebrates, mammals and reptiles.


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