Turning the tide on environmental degradation
The EU examines ways to reverse damage in the Mediterranean and Black Seas
A constant degradation
Fifty years of intense development and exploitation have resulted in significant change to the fragile natural resources of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and their coastal areas. Agreeing ways to prevent further environmental degradation will be the focus of the “International Conference on the Sustainable Development of the Mediterranean and Black Sea Environment” (IASON), to be held from 28 May to 1June in Thessaloniki (Greece), sponsored by the Greek Presidency and the European Commission. The conference will devise sustainable strategies for managing and preserving marine ecosystems, also taking into consideration economic and social factors. The event aims to strengthen the scientific and technological collaboration between the European Union and countries in the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea regions, in particular candidate countries. Researchers and policy-makers will address a range of related issues such as climate change, sustainable land use and coastal management, bio-diversity, biotechnology, the impact of human activities, sustainable fisheries, aquaculture and environmental economy.
“The time has come for co-ordinated European action to turn the tide on environmental threats,” said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. “For too long, we have exploited the Mediterranean and Black Sea areas, without considering the eventual consequences of our actions. We must invest in integrated programmes of research to deliver sustainable development solutions and long-term environmental protection for the benefit of our future generations.”
Enclosed seas are more sensitive to human pressures than the open ocean. Amongst such enclosed seas the Mediterranean Sea and its adjacent basin, the Black Sea, experience the severe impact of human activities, due to the population expansion of the last 50 years, urban growth, tourism, intensive agriculture and pollution, eutrophication, soil degradation, disposal of industrial and domestic waste and desertification. Rivers feeding into the Black Sea are increasingly polluted as the 17 countries in the region become more industrialised.
Strained natural resources
Between 1973 and 1990, 60 million tonnes of bottom-living animals were found dead, including 5 000 tonnes of fish. The sewage systems of over 10 million people drain into the Black Sea and its environs. Over 100 000 tonnes of oil are transported via the Black Sea every year. Heavy flooding in central Europe last year caused significant damage to the river Danube and, in turn, to the coastal regions of the Black Sea. Ecological deterioration in this region is also a growing concern for scientists, governments and the public at large.
In the Black Sea regions the effect of human activities is accompanied by changes in natural and climatic conditions, causing dramatic changes in the ecosystem and natural resources. In recent years there has been an alarming 80 % reduction in the total number of fish caught, with only six out of the 26 species of fish caught commercially in the 1960’s remaining in exploitable quantities. Sustainable development of these regions is of strategic importance for the European Union, especially in view of its enlargement.
However there is no consistent information for the two regions that could help tackle these issues and develop policies and strategies for sustainable development. According to a report on the marine environment in the Mediterranean Sea and its coastal zone, a dearth of comparable and reliable data was listed as one of the major concerns by its authors. The report, prepared by the European Environment Agency and the UN Environment Programme – in co-operation with the European Tropical Centre and Mediterranean Action Plan – called for more multidisciplinary research to determine with more certainty how Europe’s marine ecosystems is holding up.
EU action to preserve fragile eco-systems
The EU, through its recently adopted Sixth Environment Action Plan, aims therefore to promote the adoption of policies and approaches that contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in Europe, including the candidate countries.
Innovative and interdisciplinary approaches should be used to define, prioritise and propose future actions to address environmental problems of the Mediterranean and Black Seas and estimate their environmental thresholds. Modern methods for the dissemination of information, including the establishment of Internet fora for interactive involvement should be at the heart of these activities. The involvement of stakeholders from the private and public sectors, and the end-users from the business, industrial and policy-making communities will be essential.
The need for more research
In the past, several environmental research projects of the European Commission (EROS 21, Mediterranean Targeted Project, ARENA, MAMA, INTERPOL, CYCLOPS) and of other international organisations focussed on the different aspects of the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean environment but mostly in a fragmented way. The diverse trans-national and multidisciplinary environmental problems need to be assessed in an integrated way, leading to solutions and policy actions to feed into long-lasting strategies for sustainable development.
Several sessions of the conference will be devoted to sustainability, marine environmental problems, as well as a range of research and technology issues – informed by the EU’s research objectives and its current 6th Research Framework Programme (FP6 2003-2006). Themes to be covered include climate change and related processes; sustainable land use and coastal management; bio-diversity changes; biotechnology towards environmental sustainability; impact of human activities; sustainable fisheries and aquaculture; thresholds of environmental sustainability; and environmental economy.
EU R&D projects
EROS 21 looked into the bio-geochemical interactions between the Danube River and the northwestern Black Sea. The Mediterranean Targeted Project (MTP) showed evidence of human-induced rapid changes, such as in surface temperature and in salinity, that could profoundly influence the functioning of the Mediterranean Sea, and therefore the climate of the region, over the next few decades. ARENA is a regional capacity-building and networking programme to upgrade monitoring and forecasting activity in the Black Sea Basin.
MAMA aims to establish a Mediterranean network to assess and upgrade monitoring and forecasting of human activity in the region, and its impact on land and seaside resources. The Mediterranean coastal zones experience intense trawling activity and severe storm surges inducing significant resuspension-release of nutrients, pollutants and toxic elements: INTERPOL looked into the impact of natural and trawling events on resuspension, dispersion and fate of pollutants. CYCLOPS studied the formation and cycling of phosphorus in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The meeting’s welcome addresses will be given by A. Tzohatzopoulos, Greek Minister of Development, Mr. G. Paschalidis Greek Minister of Macedonia and Thrace. Introductory speeches will be given by the Director General of the Commission’s Research Directorate-General, Mr A. Mitsos, and the Secretary of State for scientific and technological research of Greece Mr. M. Deniozos.
Greece is the only EU Member State situated in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. During its presidency it has given emphasis to the environmental problem of this region and their social and economic context in the perspective of sustainable development, which is amongst the Presidency’s priorities as part of the implementation of the Lisbon process.
Expected results of the conference
The conference aims to create a lasting platform for discussion and solutions for environmental sustainability problems between private and public stakeholders in the spirit of the European Research Area (ERA), as well as to identify operational methods and tools for decision-making.
Fabio Fabbi | European Commission
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