Europe’s oceans – a business park?
Hamburg/Bremen, Germany: Nowadays, Europe’s oceans are used by maritime industries and sectors in a multiple way: fisheries, shipping, tourism, offshore wind, oil & gas. How can we curb the environmental impact of economic “blue growth” and set green limits to the use of ocean resources and space?Today’s conference arranged by the European Commission on the occasion of European Maritime Day 2014, hosted by the Federal State Bremen, Germany, sheds light on the potential of “blue growth” in offshore waters and the deep sea in particular. “Europe’s seas must not become a business park” “, says Stephan Lutter of WWF. “Large scale and well-funded projects set the level playing field for maritime industries while the European Union’s schemes to safeguard marine species, habitats and ecosystems are moving ahead at a rather slow pace.” According to the Commission’s own report, the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, aiming to achieve Good Environmental Status of our seas by 2020, has not been implemented properly in Member States’ waters since its entry into force in 2008. Only 4% of Europe’s seas are formally protected under the Natura 2000 network. Even in existing marine protected areas, most human uses remain unrestricted.
Even Europe’s deep sea is not off limits anymore: bottom fishing trawlers destroy vulnerable habitats down to 2000 m depth. Deep water oil exploration and/or drilling has started at the Atlantic frontier and in the Mediterranean. As the newest sector, the deep sea mining industry is at the ready, seeking the first licenses to explore seabed minerals in the vicinity of the Azores hydrothermal vent fields at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (Portugal). WWF believes that mining operations in the deep ocean pose imponderable risks to as yet widely unexplored ecosystems and environments. “Europe’s deep sea treasures are at stake from ruthless exploitation” Lutter says. “The EU and regional seas conventions must establish protection zones in deeper waters as well to set clear limits to this gold rush.” As a minimum requirement, WWF calls for applying the standards already adopted by the United Nations International Seabed Authority (ISA) for mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Strategic Environmental Impact Assessments (SEA) must be compulsory to prevent irreversible environmental damage from cumulative impacts of human activities in the deep sea.
WWF on the other hand welcomes certain elements of the Bremen conference such as its spotlight on the promotion of renewable energy from maritime sources and innovations with regards to satellite based surveillance of activities at sea. The latter can be used to support the protection of the marine environment as demonstrated by the “Transparency at Sea” project initiated by WWF’s Global Fisheries Programme in 2012.
International Marine Policy & Marine Protected Areas
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