Scientists paint bleak picture of European marine environment

June 20, 2003

Brussels, 19 Jun 2003

The combined impact of human activities is posing the biggest threat yet to the European marine environment, a recent scientific report has shown.

Carried out on behalf of the European Commission by the international council for the exploration of the sea (ICES), the report is the first to date that has presented an environmental picture of all the continent's seas: It covers the Baltic, North, Irish, Black and Mediterranean seas, as well as areas of the North East Atlantic.

According to research scientist and co-author of the report Chris Frid, the report 'allows us to see the relative impact of fishing, pollution and climate change and so plan where we need to invest resources in the future.'

For instance, in the case of the North Sea, Dr Frid notes that despite the considerable improvements made to its ecosystem, major problems with the fishing sector in this region still remain. Indeed, the report shows that fish stocks in the North East Atlantic alone have declined during the past decade and out of 113 stocks assessed in 2001, only 18 per cent are still inside safe biological limits. The cod stocks in this area are so low that ICES has called for a total ban on fishing in order to give these stocks a chance to recover.

However, the report notes that it is not just a question of implementing stricter fishing restrictions - more scientific resources need to be allocated to core fishery problems. 'Scientific resources in this have declined internationally, while demands for scientific advice on fisheries have increased. This discrepancy between the demands for scientific advice on fisheries, and the data and capacity to provide the advice, is a serious and growing problem,' argues the report.

While the North Atlantic suffers from depleting fish stocks, the report identifies the growing problem of mercury pollution in the Arctic Sea. It suggests that the presence of mercury may be due to increased emissions in Asia, where coal is still burnt to provide electricity. Another worrying development is the presence of contaminants that are readily taken up in the blubber of marine mammals, causing reproductive disturbances, decreased survival, and suppression of the immune system.

Other likely impacts cited by the report include increased pollution from oil discharges; further degradation of the coast zones due to residential, recreational and commercial development; and more rain, which will increase flooding in low-lying areas and raise the amount of nutrients entering the sea via rivers.

Despite the bleak picture described in the report, Dr Frid is hopeful that it will help generate global interest, concern and responsibility. 'The most significant aspect of this report is not the contents but the fact that it is written for a wide audience. This is no dry technical document - it is a colourful well illustrated and provoking account that will for the first time inform the citizens of Europe about the state of their seas. This means that we can all take part in the discussions which will lead to the production of a European Marine Strategy, a plan of how we wish to see our seas in the future.'

For further information, please consult the following web address: /files/ices_report.pdf

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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