Dr Tim O'Higgins, coordinator of the EU-funded KnowSeas project, based in Oban, Scotland, argues that implementation of the EU Integrated Maritime Policy will require a delicate balance between the use of Europe’s seas and conservation of the maritime ecosystem.
‘A poor man wants the oyster, a rich man wants the pearl…’ The words of Elvis Presley, though more famous 50 years ago, are no less resonant today. Values given to resources from the marine environment differ, and incorporating different types of values into management of the seas is vital to sustainability.
In Europe, as Member States struggle to maintain prosperity and re-establish their economies, the Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) sets out a vision of ‘Blue Growth’ to support economic improvement in maritime sectors. At the same time, the environmental component of the policy, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, mandates by law that Good Environmental Status be achieved or maintained in Europe’s Seas by 2020.
The stakes are high. From the extraction of oil and gas, to the freight transport which underpins European international trade; maritime sectors are of huge economic significance. But not all of the value of the marine environment is measured by markets. The seas generate other benefits, sometimes called ecosystem services or natural capital. For example, the aesthetic conditions which support recreation, such as clear water, beautiful natural scenery, and clean beaches, are valuable in terms of the enjoyment they provide to people, but are not for sale; in addition the oceans perform fundamental biogeochemical processes which regulate the climate and atmosphere and provide the living conditions necessary for all human activities to take place.Estimates of benefits generated by European seas for some economic sectors and ecosystem services (2010) calculated as part of the KnowSeas project. Dark shades indicate minimum values paler shades represent upper estimates (values should not be aggregate as they were generated using different valuation techniques). © SAMS
The accompanying graphic shows estimates of the economic worth of marine sectors and ecosystem services valued as part of the KnowSeas project. Altering the marine environment can reduce these stocks of natural capital and lessen their capacity to generate ecosystem services. The degree to which we can exploit marine ecosystems without depleting natural capital defines the limits of sustainability.
Recognising the value of the environment and of the ecosystem services it provides when implementing the integrated policy is therefore hugely important. In scope and scale this is an enormous undertaking. European marine territory is vast - covering 6.6 million square km - and diverse both in terms of the ecology within it and the social and cultural norms of the people surrounding it. From the crowded beaches and crystal waters of the Mediterranean to the deep remote fjords of the North Atlantic, marine managers face the same challenge, that of balancing use and conservation.
Aligning these twin goals requires an understanding of the trade-offs between exploitation and ecosystem service supply. European society places pressures on the seas through fishing, agriculture and shipping amongst other activities. These pressures result in an alarming list of environmental problems: collapsing fish stocks, oxygen depletion and ocean acidification are just a few. The damage done to oceans in turn diminishes their capacity to supply ecosystem services on which all human activities - economic and social - ultimately rely. For example, ocean acidification, caused by emissions of carbon dioxide may destroy cold water coral reefs in the North East Atlantic, eliminating essential fish habitat - and production of commercially important species - as well as reducing biodiversity and the potential for the discovery of new genetic resources with pharmaceutical worth.
‘The degree to which we can exploit marine ecosystems without depleting natural capital defines the limits of sustainability.’
Dr Tim O'Higgins, KnowSeas project coordinator
Understanding how best to manage the marine environment to maintain ecosystem services, as well as support economic development, has been the focus of the KnowSeas project over the past four years. The project, led by the Scottish Association for Marine Science, has brought together a multidisciplinary team of ecologists, economists and social scientists from 33 academic partners in 16 different countries. The work has taken a systems approach, aiming to support implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive by developing a coherent conceptual approach as well as practical tools for marine managers. The project output tools and reports are available on the Internet.
With jobs and economic growth currently top priority on most national agendas, there is a danger that the trade-offs between economic profit and ecological loss will be ignored. The harsh reality is that ecosystem services are unlikely to be fully considered in management and that our stocks of natural capital may continue to be depleted further in the coming years. The values we place today on exploitation and conservation of the marine environment will shape the future long after the 2020 target for Good Environmental Status. If we chose to deplete our natural capital now for the sake of economic growth we endanger the very ecosystems on which our societies depend for life.
Raising children can be a tough job, especially when doing it alone, but some animals like meerkats and mongooses work together to raise their young. Studies of these cooperative creatures are revealing how this highly social behaviour evolved and is shedding light on the roots of our own species’ collaborative abilities.
From a chemical-free spray that turns sand into lush green land, to a caterer who serves planet-friendly dishes, and from technology that makes stronger concrete with less cement, to insect farms that produce fish food and fertilisers, there is no shortage of ideas to reduce emissions. But which ones work best?
Little more than a decade ago, two astronomers discovered mysterious bursts of radio waves that seem to take place all over the sky, often outshining all the stars in a galaxy. Since then, the study of these fast radio bursts, or FRBs, has taken off, and while we still don’t know what exactly they are or what causes them, scientists are now edging closer to some answers.
They are fleeing war, famine and persecution, risking treacherous journeys across deserts and seas in search of safety. But helping refugees and asylum seekers to cope with the psychological scars caused by their experiences could help them adjust to life in their new homes.
Scientists want to explain what exactly causes these strange radio wave flashes.
Refugees are being trained to help others in their community cope with their ordeals.
R&I missions will mean rethinking the economy - Prof. Mazzucato.