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EU aims to clean up European seas by 2021

European scientists and policy makers met at the Baltic Sea and European Marine Strategy conference in Helsinki, Finland, this week to discuss how to achieve good environmental status for European seas in the next 15 years. ESA took part by demonstrating the potential of Earth observation for monitoring and implementing marine policies.

The conference, held 13 to 15 November under the auspices of Finland's European Union (EU) Presidency, addressed the EU’s newly proposed marine strategy, which stresses the need to apply an ‘ecosystem approach’ to improving the state of the Baltic Sea and Europe's other troubled seas.

In his opening speech, Finnish Environment Minister Jan-Erik Enestam said: "This ‘ecosystem approach’ will require us to have a holistic view and a good understanding of the linkages between marine ecosystems and human activities that have an impact on those ecosystems. "This kind of management of human activities […] will require swift information exchange and dialogue between policymakers, administrators and scientists. This work has to be based on the best possible knowledge of marine environments."

When asked if new technologies like satellite observations were important, Enestam said they were "crucial for marine safety".

Peter Gammeltoft, Head of the Protection of Water and the Marine Environment Unit at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Environment, said: "For the first time, the EU is putting in place a policy framework – including legislation – which specifically addresses the vital issue of protecting Europe's seas and oceans in an integrated manner, looking at all pressures and impacts."

Participants of the conference drafted and approved a declaration, which among other directives includes:

encouraging relevant actors to develop well designed operational networks and an open data policy relevant to the environment

asking the national, regional and European authorities to set up and implement more efficient environmental policies and legislation using innovative and economic instruments to provide incentives and technical solutions to protect the basin and catchments of the Baltic Sea.

Gammeltoft said the current state of knowledge about Europe’s marine environment needs to be improved and that future management would take into account data collected from improved monitoring systems.

GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) is the response to Europe’s need for geo-spatial information services. ESA is the main partner to the EU in GMES, which provides autonomous and independent access to information for policy-makers, particularly in relation to environment and security.

ESA presented the GMES services at a stand showing how current available Earth observation (EO) services can meet many monitoring needs for implementing European and regional marine policies including:

Sea-ice services for efficient and safe navigation

Oil-spill monitoring aimed at mitigating illegal discharges from ship traffic

Snow mapping for monitoring the inflow of nutrients to the Baltic sea during the melting period

Water quality and algal bloom monitoring for managing eutrophication.

These Baltic Sea regional services are currently being provided by the GMES Service Element projects Polar View and Marcoast, which will be fully implemented as part of the future European GMES network of services.

The proposed marine strategy directive aims to define common principles for the protection of Europe's seas. Enestam said Finland’s goal is to have a decision made on the content of the European Marine Strategy Directive at the December meeting of the European Ministers of the Environment.

Mariangela D'Acunto | alfa
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