Fourteen steps to marine conservation

The European Commission has launched a fresh approach to protecting marine ecosystems, setting new targets to eliminate litter, oil and radionuclide pollution, halt the spread of eutrophication and reverse the decline in biodiversity.

Maritime transport, over-fishing and coastal development are taking their toll on the oceans, despite measures to ease pressure on marine life. Some fish stocks have reached critically low levels, resulting in the re-structuring of marine ecosystems. Coastal habitats continue to suffer from the introduction of non-indigenous species and organic pollutants.

Progress on the marine environment to date has been unsatisfactory, says Environmental Commissioner Margot Wallstr&oulm;m, with society continuing to neglect its seas. “We cannot continue to over-fish nor can we behave as if the oceans are a bottomless pit into which we can indiscriminately pour toxic chemicals, oil and waste,” she says.

The EU’s 6th Environmental Action Programme sets out fourteen objectives and action plans to conserve marine resources, including halting the biodiversity decline, strengthening fisheries management, taking an ecosystem-based approach to conservation and eliminating litter and eutrophication by 2010.

The EU communication also calls for action on radionuclide pollution, oil discharges and ship nitrogen oxide emissions, to be eliminated through schemes like the ‘Clean Ship’ concept.

At the Norwegian Fifth Ministerial North Sea Conference in March, the ‘Clean Ship’ approach was launched to encourage the design and construction of vessels with minimum environmental impact. More efficient engines, recycling of ballast water and better use of oil are expected to reduce shipping impact on the oceans. The Marine Strategy also recommends regional management plans for ballast waters, to prevent the accidental introduction of exotic species.

At a stakeholder conference to be held this December, the EU will also promote programmes to monitor furans, dioxins and other fish contaminants, assess the extent of eutrophication and identify the culprits of illegal discharges of oil.

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