Following visits to a number of European research institutes, Commissioner Vella had invited a number of CEO's of institutes and a selection of others to exchange ideas as to how research could contribute towards the EU's goals for blue growth and ocean governance.
· Observation and mapping
Forecasting the future depends on understanding the past and this requires regular and careful observations. Ocean observation, particularly via in-water sensors was seen as a priority. It was seen as a prerequisite for science, for developing forecasting capabilities, for de-risking economic activities in the ocean and for mastering big societal challenges. The International Oceanographic Commission's Global Ocean Observing System is the global system for observations and modelling to support ocean services worldwide and it has an active non-profit associate in Europe (EuroGOOS) since 1994. Lack of investment in this field has been a problem.
Mapping the ocean floor was mentioned as a second priority to improve our still fragmentary knowledge. For instance, the search for MH370 and the recent Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance (CAN-EU-US) seabed mapping transect across the Atlantic had revealed hitherto unknown volcanoes and mountain ranges as well as errors in charts of over half a kilometre in depth and up to 2 km in the horizontal plane. The EU and several Member States are active currently in an international seabed mapping working group. Lack of investment is also a problem in this field.
Cooperation between marine research institutes is already very good. However, participants recommended a coherent strategy for investment in ocean observation (as currently discussed in the context of the G7 Research Ministers' Preparatory Meetings, concerning "Future of the Oceans and Seas"). It was recommended to develop a fit for purpose capacity to map, observe and predict ocean state and variability. This would be important for managing risk and de-risking for job creation. The importance of concentrated research on marine geo-hazards such as submarine landslides and tsunamis was also mentioned as a priority.
As a first step, an assessment report on the economic and societal benefits associated with ocean observing would be beneficial in helping to make stronger arguments in support of national investments in ocean measurement.
The CEOs felt that there is scope for getting better coordination between research policy and maritime and environment policies and for the various EU finding streams to work better together as a means of accessing more funding for seas and oceans.
The need was seen to base sustainable aquaculture on high diversity and to examine the feasibility of harvesting lower trophic levels. The potential of blue biotechnology for blue growth was also mentioned and in this context the need for proper benefits sharing. Mechanisms for better protection of the high seas across EEZs, via co-governance between countries was called for, with attention to biological corridors between marine protected areas.
Marine resources were almost entirely absent from Expo2015 which was devoted to “feeding the planet: energy for life”. We need to step up our actions and draw attention to the potential of the oceans to produce healthy food in a sustainable way. Having regard to Sustainable Development Goal 14 on oceans, seas and marine resources how can we use the resources of the ocean to provide food, energy and health to a global population that is growing in numbers, prosperity and expectations?
The CEOs agreed that the recent paper from the European Academies on marine sustainability in an age of changing seas and oceans, complemented by the European Marine Board's Navigating the Future IV paper (2013), represented a good starting point for the questions to be answered. The following points were emphasised in particular.
How will climate change impact our oceans?
How can we work with nature for greater sustainability?
Commissioner Vella expressed thanks to the group. They had certainly provided food for thought and a follow-up will be announced shortly.
Ed Hill, Executive Director of the National Oceanography Centre at Southampton, UK
Frederic Briand, Director General of CIESM, The Mediterranean Science Commission, Monaco
François Jacq, Président-Directeur general of IFREMER
Henk Brinkhuis, Director of NIOZ, Royal NL Institute for Sea Research
Niall McDonough, Executive Secretary, European Marine Board
Peter Heffernan, Chief Executive of the Marine Institute, Galway
Peter Herzig, Executive Director of GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Kiel
Vladimir Ryabinin, is Executive Secretary of the International Oceanographic Commission, UNESCO
Evangelos Papathanassiou, Research Director of the Institute of Oceanography, HCMR