How we contaminate Europe’s marine environment

According to a new European Environment Agency report, between 75 and 96 % of the assessed area of Europe’s regional seas have a contamination problem.

The diversity of seas

European seas cover about 11 220 000 km2 — this area exceeds Europe’s land territory. Moreover, 23 out of 28 EU Member States have a coastline.

Europe’s seas support a rich and diverse array of species, habitats and ecosystems. Although vital for Europe’s economic and social wellbeing, many of these ecosystems are at risk of being irreversibly damaged by human activities. These activities related to over-exploitation of the marine natural resources are causing a serious decline in biodiversity.

Bothian Sea Wilderness © All rights reserved
Bothian Sea Wilderness © All rights reserved

Policy pillar for action

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive was adopted by the European Union on 17 June 2008 with the focus to protect marine biodiversity. The concrete aim of this Directive is to provide an ecosystem-based management approach to human activities regarding Europe’s seas and thus reach a good environmental status of EU marine waters by 2020. Since we are one year away from reaching this deadline, the European Environment Agency published a report on mapping and checking the trends in the contamination of Europe’s regional seas.

Contaminants in Europe’s seas

The report shows that all four regional seas in Europe struggle with a large-scale contamination problem. This ranges from 96 % of the assessed area in the Baltic Sea and 91 % in the Black Sea, to 87 % in the Mediterranean and 75 % in the North-East Atlantic Ocean. The overall concentrations of some well-known contaminants has been declining. Nevertheless, the numbers are in many areas still not enough to meet the agreed thresholds. With the current state of contamination, the goal set by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive is unlikely to be met by 2020-2021, stresses the report.

The report highlights that the way Member states have addressed marine pollution up to this day needs to change immediately. The report on contaminants is the first in a series of upcoming assessments on the marine environment. Next will be assessments focusing on eutrophication, marine biodiversity and potential combined effects of multiple human pressures, sustainable use, and marine protected areas.

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