Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is an increasing threat for marine life. The adoption of the Single Use Plastic Directive by the European Union in 2019 represented an ambitious step to get rid of the ten most polluting items found on European beaches. However, one year after the entry into force of the directive, the transposition of the legislation into domestic law has stalled in most European countries. In addition, the COVID crisis has led to a dramatic surge in the use and littering of single-use plastics.

Today, the European Commission published a report assessing the progress with the implementation of the EU’s Marine Directive [1], adopted in 2008. The report comes out just as the European Environment Agency paints a dire picture of the state of European seas in its new Marine report. Marine life, from seabed to sea birds, is suffering: 79% of the EU’s coastal seabed is damaged by bottom-trawling, up to 53% of sharks, rays and skates are threatened by bycatch and marine mammals’ condition has been in sharp decline since 2009.

Scientists indicate that deep sea fish populations in the EU are either depleted or lacking information to assess their status. NGOs urge European decision-makers to set fishing limits for highly vulnerable deep sea fish populations in line with scientific advice and the precautionary approach.

2020 was to be the ‘Ocean Super Year’, with a series of planned ocean policy events to determine the future of our blue planet. Like so many other things, COVID-19 has brought a different focus. Today, World Oceans Day 2020, is instead a time to reflect on the lessons learned from the pandemic. First, we are all connected with each other and with the natural world. Scientists have suggested that humans are to blame for this crisis, confirming that the closer contact between wild animals and humans as a result of the widespread destruction of nature facilitated the spread of the virus to humans.

If we have learned anything from the Covid-19 pandemic it is that we are all inextricably connected with each other and the natural world. Without greater balance and cooperation we cannot survive as a species. Human wellbeing is at the heart of what we do.  Our work, to protect the ocean is driven by the reality that humankind needs a healthy planet that can sustain life, for the sake of our homes, health, livelihoods, and food. Many have taken the rupture to our lives caused by Covid-19 to think about this and about how we can rebuild better, learning from the pandemic to achieve a greater balance, and to protect the fundamentals which make life on Earth possible. Doing so is a necessity. 

Decision makers and key stakeholders need to agree a course of action that will give our Blue Planet the best chance of survival. To this end, a group of civil society and philanthropic organisations - including Seas At Risk – have developed a joint call to RISE UP for the ocean. This blue call to action was handed to UN Secretary General Guterres in early February 2020.

Green recovery offers considerable potential for smart investments that will deliver both a healthier economy and a healthier environment. However, although investments in the marine environment can yield large returns, governments around the world spend an estimated 22 billion dollars annually on capacity-enhancing, harmful financial incentives and subsidies in the fisheries sector alone. The EU, too, continues to invest in these harmful incentives, despite the marine ecosystem being already on the brink on collapse. The EU’s Green Recovery plan presents an unexpected opportunity to redirect these resources towards sustainable recovery.

Ocean Action! - and Ocean Week 2020 - were meant to be among the first events in Europe to open the ‘Ocean Super Year’. What a strange yet warm feeling it is to look back on that day today, when we could all still gather to discuss the actions needed to achieve the healthy and resilient ocean on which we depend.

The past year has seen growing calls for a moratorium on deep-sea mining. Hundreds of NGOs, the European Parliament, the European fisheries industry and several renowned scientists – including Sir David Attenborough and Sylvia Earle - are recommending precautionary action to protect the deep sea from irreversible large-scale harm. Now, the European Commission has joined the call for such a moratorium

Responding to the publication of annual scientific advice for EU fishing limits for 2021 in the Baltic Sea by ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea), which finds important Baltic fish populations remain in a state of crisis, and the entire Baltic Sea ecosystem in very poor health [1], a group of NGOs are demanding that the European Commission and national fisheries ministers adhere to ICES expert scientific recommendations for zero fishing of western Baltic herring and eastern Baltic cod for 2021, to end overfishing of all other species, and commit to increased focus on ecosystem and climate considerations.

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