Brussels, 12 May 2004
A major European conference on marine research got underway in Galway, Ireland, on 10 May, and following a spectacular opening ceremony, the 500 scientists and policy makers in attendance were left in no doubt as to the challenges facing them.
Gilles Ollier, a representative of the European Commission (co-sponsors of EUROCEAN 2004) told delegates that the event had three key aims. First was to review and celebrate the achievements of European marine research in recent years, including the activities of some 150 EU funded projects. Second was to communicate these achievements to stakeholders at large, in order to raise the visibility of their work. Finally, delegates should reflect on the future priorities for marine research in Europe, particularly in the context of the European Research Area (ERA) and the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), said Mr Ollier.
Welcoming the contribution of the EUROCEAN series of conferences to marine research in Europe, EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: 'In the last two decades, the European Commission has funded more than 300 research projects on marine science, [...and] the results of these efforts confirm Europe's leading position in this field of research. [This] conference, EUROCEAN 2004, is the best forum to discuss these research conclusions to help design future policies and strategies to help safeguard our marine environment.'
The timing of the conference, less than a year before formal proposals for the budget and priorities of FP7 are put before the European Parliament and Council is no coincidence. Compared with the previous framework programme, the budget for environmental research under FP6, including marine activities, shrunk by 35 per cent. The challenge for marine researchers is to convince EU decision makers that their work is relevant enough to reverse this downward trend under FP7.
CORDIS News spoke to Dr Peter Heffernan, CEO of Ireland's Marine Institute, and asked him how much importance he places on communicating research results to outside stakeholders. 'There is a very simple rule in business: you have to communicate the value of your product - in this case, marine research - in order to survive. No matter how good your product is, if you don't communicate it you won't get support.'
In order to win the support of EU budget holders in particular, Dr Heffernan believes that the marine and ocean science community must make their work relevant in the context of the EU's wider policy goals, such as the Lisbon Agenda. 'I am hoping that this conference sends out a strong and clear message: that marine science and innovation has a major contribution to make to European competitiveness,' he said.
Those areas where marine research can have a particular impact include maritime transport, oil and gas industries, tourism, biotechnology, biodiversity and climate change, according to Dr Heffernan. 'Marine research can be a knowledge driver, and most importantly, it can help us to strike the right balance environmentally.'
Welcoming delegates to Galway on behalf of the Irish Presidency, which also sponsored the event, Dr Heffernan noted the huge investments that Ireland has made in marine research in the last decade, following years of neglect. 'Ireland has benefited greatly from participation in EU marine research. We watched, learned and were warmly welcomed.'
In turn, Dr Heffernan welcomed the new Member States, saying that the conference marked a new era of European collaboration, and that marine research is a particularly relevant area for all countries in the enlarged EU. 'Europe now faces a new challenge, and our area of research must continue and grow in this new enlarged Europe,' he concluded.
Delegates at the EUROCEAN 2004 conference must now face their own challenge: to raise the profile of their work and win the support of decision makers and the wider public. Their success in achieving these aims could be the factor that ultimately decides whether or not marine research is allowed to grow at all.
For further information on the conference, please visit: