Taking better care of our oceans

Oceans, which make up 70 % of our planet, are threatened by pollution, illegal fishing, piracy and human trafficking. Ten million tonnes of litter end up in the oceans every year – that is a truckload a minute. Every single piece of plastic takes centuries to decompose. With a new agenda for the oceans, the EU aims to ensure that our oceans are secure, clean and sustainably managed, and to strengthen international ocean governance.

Following the adoption of the Communication on International Ocean Governance in November 2016, the EU High Representative and European Commission have presented a to-do list of things we can and should do for the oceans.

Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella said: If our oceans are not healthy, our economy falls ill. Global maritime challenges require global solutions. I am committed to work intensively to define Europe's role in international ocean governance, for a sustainable blue economy.”

The agenda has 14 sets of actions in three priority areas: 1) Improving the international ocean governance framework; 2) Reducing human pressure on the oceans and creating the conditions for a sustainable blue economy; and 3) Strengthening international ocean research and data.

As 60 % of oceans are outside the borders of national jurisdiction, international co-operation is crucial. Existing international ocean rules need to be further developed and better enforced for areas beyond national jurisdiction to free oceans from piracy and human trafficking, and protect them from maritime accidents and environmental disasters.

Oceans are vital climate regulators, absorbing 25 % of CO2 generated. They are home to fragile ecosystems, such as coastal reefs. We will seek to protect and restore these. The EU has committed to set aside 10 % of its waters as protected areas by 2020. Through twinning projects, research funds and the exchange of best practices, we will push to expand such marine reserves worldwide.

Fight the sea of plastic

To fight the ‘sea of plastic’, the Commission will update rules on waste disposal for vessels, and seek effective global strategies for plastic litter and micro-plastics. In line with the Circular Economy Action Plan, we will develop a new strategy on plastics in 2017 in view of reducing marine litter by at least 30 % by 2020.

Finally, we need to generate a better understanding of our oceans and improve scientific knowledge. Our aim is to create a worldwide marine data network that is open to all.

On 5-6 October 2017, the EU will host the next international ‘Our Ocean’ conference in Malta. This will be a first opportunity to take stock and see if we can already tick off some boxes on our list.

Find out more

Joint Communication on international ocean governance: