The ocean’s role as the engine of all life on this planet is threatened by marine pollution. It is dumped, pumped, spilled, leaked into the ocean and even washed out with our laundry.
Healthy ocean ecosystems are those exhibiting normal form and function that is demonstrating sufficient organisation, vigour and resilience to allow the ecosystem to exist, thrive and evolve as a natural system.
Clean oceans are oceans free from any type of pollution reaching them from any pathway (e.g. direct discharge, runoff, pollution from ships, deep-sea mining etc.)
Main pollution types are
- eutrophication (nutrient pollution)
- contaminants (pesticides, heavy metals, toxins)
- underwater noise (oil drilling, shipping)
- ocean acidification (atmosphere CO2 dissolving in ocean)
- marine litter(plastic, wood, metal, etc.)
Marine pollution has no borders. Marine pollutants entering oceans in one country may travel long distances due to shifting winds, seasonal currents and migrating species. Therefore, coordinated EU-level actions and initiatives are of benefit to all EU countries bordering the European seas.
To restore ocean health, the EU aims to regenerate and recover European marine ecosystems by 2030 through actions to achieve cleaner marine waters, restore their rich biodiversity and make our blue economy climate friendly.
The Commission contributes to this effort by initiating legislation, for instance on
- banning certain single-use plastic items
- encouraging ship operators to deliver all waste to ports
- improving the rules on reporting of lost fishing gear
- restricting microplastics intentionally added to products, e.g. in cosmetics or detergents
- reducing emissions of microplastics to the environment
It sets the criteria for good environmental status under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which requires EU countries to report on the state and the measures taken to achieve this status.
The Commission also steps up its commitment to the fight against marine litter at international level, including in the UN, G7, G20 and other international fora. It promotes regional cooperation with Regional Sea Conventions and finances. projects in the European neighbourhood (Mediterranean and Black Sea). On a global level, Commission services are working on large projects that contribute to marine litter reduction, for example in Southeast Asia, the Pacific and South America.
In May 2021, the Commission proposed new measures on reporting lost fishing gear and facilitating its retrieval. The new reporting measures will allow the quantities of fishing gear placed on the market to be compared with those collected. This will give the recycling business a clear view of the opportunities and provide the necessary input for the Commission to establish binding Union collection targets in the future.
EU funding and research
The Commission allocates funds from the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) to develop solutions for restoring and maintaining ocean health, and tackling marine litter.
The EMFAF also compensates fishermen for bringing ashore waste caught in their nets during normal fishing operations rather than dumping them back into the sea.
The Commission drives research to create innovative and impactful solutions for clean and healthy oceans. The next programme, Horizon Europe, includes a new approach – a Mission on healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters.
Finally, the Commission compiles and manages data to support knowledge-based decision making (EMODNET and Atlas of the Seas).
EU events and workshops
Every year, the European Commission organises the blue economy flagship event European Maritime Day.
It also organises the annual, global #EUBeachCleanUp campaigns in collaboration with the European External Action Service, the United Nations and the Smurfs, joining forces with local communities, NGOs, schools and private companies to clean beaches and to raise awareness among the young generation across the world.
Relevant stakeholders come together in specific workshops organised by the Commission.
Decision laying down the format for reporting data and information on fishing gear placed on the market and waste fishing gear collected in Member States
Directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment (2019)
Directive on port reception facilities for the delivery of waste from ships (2019)
European strategy for plastics in a circular economy
Plastics in a circular economy
European Environment Agency’s Marine litter watch app
European Circular economy stakeholder platform
EU science hub - Coastal and marine environment
Horizon Europe mission area: Healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters
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