Oceans are rising rapidly on the EU and international agenda. Ocean governance is scattered however, and blue economy priorities risk to override environmental concerns.

The ocean is an important source of vital resources and plays a major role to regulate the climate and to preserve biodiversity. But increasing human pressure has reached unsustainable levels. Ocean resources are overexploited. Overfishing is prevalent, marine biodiversity dropped by almost 40% in the last 40 years, plastic pollution has contaminated the remotest islands and the deepest trenches, climate change and acidification are exacerbating the decline in ocean health.

Oceans are now considered a priority concern at global level. For the first time ever, oceans are included in the United Nations' Agenda for Sustainable Development, and also the G7 and G20 have put oceans high among their priorities.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on oceans is to ‘conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’. Much stronger international governance is needed to achieve this, especially now the era of the ‘blue economy’ is on the rise. International ocean governance currently lies scattered among a daunting number of institutions and organisations. Better international coordination, enhanced implementation of international commitments and a break-away from the sector by sector approach is direly needed. And first and foremost, the environmental dimension needs to be reinforced to keep blue growth ambitions within environmental limits.

The 2016 Communication on International Ocean Governance outlines how the EU intends to contribute to improving governance internationally. It intends to build on the EU’s experience with its Integrated Maritime Policy, the governance umbrella for maritime developments in the European Seas. However, ten years after the start of the Integrated Maritime Policy, also in EU waters fragmented governance still prevails. The blue growth strategy is driven by sectors while environment governance, e.g. through the Marine Directive, seems to move in separate spheres.

Seas At Risk aims works to ensure a more integrated holistic governance approach, at EU and internationally, and geared to sustainable development, rather than growth for the sake of growth.