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Minutes - 8th Steering Committee Meeting of the European Atlas of the Seas

Published on: Tue, 28/09/2021 - 19:09
Table of Contents
    This article summarises the main discussions of the 8th Steering Committee Meeting of the European Atlas of the Seas which took place remotely on 15 September 2021.

    8th Steering Committee Meeting of the European Atlas of the Seas 

    Meeting location: Remote meeting

    Date and time: Wednesday 15/09/2021 from 9:30 until 12:00

    List of Actions

    SC #







    Action 1

    Organise a meeting with Alessandra Portis (DG MARE Communication Unit), Olga Mashkina (EU4Ocean) and the Atlas communication team to discuss ways that the collaboration could be enhanced on communication and ways synergies could be further strengthened.

    Next phase

    EMODnet Secretariat in cooperation with the DG MARE Communication Unit and Olga Mashkina (EU4Ocean)


    Action 2

    Organise surveys in the framework of EU4Ocean Sea Basin events to collect information on the needs of Atlas users and potential future users.

    Next phase

    EMODnet Secretariat in cooperation with the EU4Ocean partners


    Action 3

    Organise a meeting with Helen Lillis (JNCC) to discuss the categorization of sea bed habitats map layers in the Atlas.

    Next phase

    EMODnet Secretariat in cooperation with JNCC


    Action 4

    Further develop partnerships to work towards the inclusion of the Atlas in the education curriculum in countries across Europe and increase its use in schools.

    Next phase

    EMODnet Secretariat


    Meeting Minutes

    1. Welcome and approval of the agenda

    Jan-Bart Calewaert (EMODnet Secretariat) opened the meeting by welcoming the Steering Committee (SC) members and invited partners and data providers and introduced the meeting co-chairs Zoi Konstantinou (DG MARE) and Chantal Vanhove (DG MARE). He highlighted that this was the last SC meeting of the current four-year Secretariat work plan. So, it was a perfect time to reflect on achievements. The coming three months of 2021 will be dedicated to maintenance of the Atlas. A new phase will then start in 2022.

    The Atlas is now widely used. It has been turned from a promising tool to a feature full and content rich tool used by teachers, students and professionals. A shift from visitors to users and a steady increase in the number of users are observed. The week of the SC meeting marked the end of the social media Atlas Ambassadors campaign launched in September 2020 following the release of version 6 of the Atlas to promote the fact that the Atlas is available in 24 languages. A milestone has also been reached with 2,250 followers on the Atlas' Twitter account.

    Jan-Bart Calewaert pointed out that the objectives of this meeting were to review the achievements over the last 2-4 years and collect feedback from participants on where further improvements can be made. This SC meeting has been opened to partners and data providers, welcoming among others Olga Mashkina (ACTeon, Coordinator of EU4Ocean), Helen Lillis (JNCC, EMODnet Sea Bed Habitats), Alessandro Pititto (Cogea, EMODnet Human Activities) and Florence Huron (Nausicaá).

    1. Perspectives from DG MARE

    Zoi Konstantinou (DG MARE) noted that the Atlas has grown impressively in the last two years, in functionality, content and communication activities. Great collaborations have been established (e.g. with EU4Ocean and other partners such as Nausicaá and Escola Azul) with excellent results. This is reflected in the web traffic statistics. The translations of the map layers and the related Ambassadors campaign have been huge steps in the development of the Atlas, expanding its reach to wider audiences in the different Members States. The technical development has been stopped for a period, to allow to review the impacts, after which the development will resume in 2022.

    According to Zoi Konstantinou, the efforts to make the Atlas a tool to be used by all students in Europe who want to learn about the marine environment are starting to pay off, which is a great achievement. She feels the tool should be promoted internally within DG MARE and other DGs, as it also has potential as a communication tool for European Commission officers.

    Chantal Vanhove (DG MARE) fully agreed with the observations from Zoi Konstantinou and added that the workshops were particularly useful as they allow understanding what teachers are interested in.

    During a quick tour the table, each of the participants (see Annex 1 List of participants) introduced themselves, already providing some initial feedback on the Atlas. Olga Mashkina (EU4Ocean) mentioned existing synergies between the European Atlas of the Seas and EU4Ocean and pointed out that the EU4Ocean Sea Basin Events and upcoming summit planned in May/June 2022 will be great opportunities to further develop these synergies.

    1. Communication, Events and Partnerships

    Presentation: asc8_03_communicationeventspartnerships.pdf

    Overview of activities and evolution over the past 2 years

    To summarize the achievements and impact with regard to objectives, Nathalie Van Isacker (EMODnet Secretariat) displayed an overview showing how the communication and outreach objectives led to a diversity of activities (see slides). She then presented a high-level overview of all the activities and the overarching activity on Twitter which supports all other activities and provides important insight on the audience's interests. The main points can be summarized as follows:

    Twitter: The objective has been to increase visibility of the Atlas and the audience of the Atlas through regular tweeting (1 tweet/day), a great diversity of tweets and tagging many stakeholders to reach out to everyone who can be interested in using the Atlas. The Twitter statistics show good progress in terms of the number of followers. The audience includes teachers, policy makers, researchers and people involved in the blue economy as well as some multipliers (networks, associations, projects and initiatives that can spread the Atlas widely). A few examples of tweets and interactions observed on Twitter are given:

    • Maps of the Week present maps related to recent news/events at European Union and/or international level.
    • Atlas Ambassadors shared and retweeted, in the language they are representing, their quotes on why it is important to care about the oceans and seas, allowing to spread the Atlas in local communities.
    • Events such as workshops the Atlas Team is organising or participating in (e.g. European Maritime Day (EMD) Ocean Literacy workshop) are promoted and tweets follow the events. The team observed interesting and good reactions from participants on Twitter which contribute to the promotion of the Atlas.
    • Education and Ocean Literacy material published on the Teachers Corner (e.g. EMD in my Country Treasure Hunt) is promoted on Twitter and insight is gained on interest from the audience.
    • Tweets are used to inform the readers of different tools available in the Atlas to encourage them to make the most of their use of the Atlas. This aims to contribute to the shift between visitors and users.
    • Retweets from the community now appear in different languages which contribute to the dissemination of information about the Atlas throughout Europe.

    Ambassadors Campaign: A one-year campaign covering 24 ambassadors promoting the Atlas in the official 24 EU languages was organized ending the week of this Steering Committee meeting. Banners of each ambassador with a quote in one of the 24 languages and its translation into English were shared on Twitter. The Ambassadors have very different backgrounds, illustrating the diversity of maps in the Atlas. Ambassadors have shown great enthusiasm for the campaign. As the campaign is ending, the Atlas Team is creating a map of the Ambassadors which will soon be available in the Atlas.

    Maps of the week: This is a useful tool to present the Atlas and its wealth of data layers and inform readers of European policy developments and events at the same time.

    Partners: Exercises for the Teachers Corner were developed by teachers in Portugal thanks to the partnership with Escola Azul. This not only provided useful content in Portuguese, but also showed what kind of content teachers are looking for. Teachers also provided detailed useful feedback on their experience with the Atlas and suggestions to improve the Atlas. The partnership with Nausicaá made it possible for the Atlas to be visible and used at the aquarium. It also aims at promoting the Atlas towards French teachers. Nausicaá has many valuable ideas to reach visitors even more widely. Both Escola Azul and Nausicaá presented the results of their work with the Atlas at the online workshop organised by the Atlas Team on 16 June 2021.

    Synergies: Many synergies have been developed between the Atlas and EU4Ocean. This includes the development of maps for the EU4Ocean Coalition promoting EU4Ocean.  It gives the opportunity to schools working on projects to obtain certification as a European Blue School to find partners for their projects. The Atlas Team contributed to several Teacher Training workshops organised by the Network of European Blue Schools. The Atlas submitted a pledge in the 'Make Europe Blue' campaign. Synergies have also been developed with the Communication Team of DG MARE, including the Maps of the Month for the DG MARE Newsletter and making suggestions for maps linking to upcoming communication activities of DG MARE, allowing DG MARE to embed maps in online articles.

    Workshops: Workshops are very important as they allow direct contacts with the Atlas users and make it possible to get feedback from participants (through surveys during the workshop or post-workshop surveys). The Atlas Team participated in several workshops in person before 2020. As of 2020, due to COVID-19, the team organised and contributed to online workshops (more than 10 online workshops with different audiences). The organisation of a webinar with Scientix showed that the Atlas is not only an Ocean Literacy tool but also an important STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) tool.

    Teachers Corner & Ocean Literacy: The Teachers Corner includes ready to use exercises and activities (e.g. Treasure Hunt, quiz, ...) for teachers and students.

    Promotional tools include a GIF (useful for online promotion) and a tutorial video. The Atlas Team publishes articles on the Atlas Community on the Maritime Forum and the EMODnet Central Portal. There is an increasing number of publications, online portals and websites that embed maps from the Atlas and/or refer to the Atlas (examples in slides).

    Gained insights and recommendations for the future

    • There is wide interest from diverse audiences that can be further optimised: teachers, education & ocean literacy associations, scientific researchers, blue economy professionals, policy-makers, …
    • Partnerships are productive and many opportunities exist for:
      1. The development of educational material
      2. Promotion at EU and local level
      3. Receiving feedback and ideas for future developments
      4. Integrating the Atlas in Ocean Literacy initiatives
    • The Ambassadors’ campaign was successful and it would be interesting to continue to involve Ambassadors in Atlas activities (e.g. Twitter) where relevant.
    • Workshops are essential for direct contacts with users and are appreciated by organisers and participants. They provide good opportunities to get feedback through surveys.
    • There are good opportunities for new activities for the Teachers Corner.

    Feedback from DG MARE, the Steering Committee members and invited stakeholders:

    Zoi Konstantinou congratulates the team for the impressive range of activities that have been carried out. It explains why the Atlas has become more visible. She has the sense the Atlas is going into the right direction. We should evaluate which of these activities had the best payoff, and where we need to consolidate our efforts.

    Alessandra Portis (DG MARE) thinks that all of the activities that have been carried out are complete and she has no specific additional actions to recommend. She congratulates the team on adopting the new social media approach, following up very well the advice of DG MARE Communication Unit and giving the social media communication a more human face (e.g. with the Ambassadors campaign). The visual appeal of the Twitter account has greatly improved, with many great hooks to multipliers.

    The Ambassadors campaign was a great success and should be followed-up by similar actions. She invites the Atlas team to reach out to the DG MARE Communication Team for discussions on future ideas and opportunities. Chantal Vanhove (DG MARE) thanked the Communication Unit of DG MARE for their help and support. Their input and advice have started paying off. She also thanked the Atlas Team for presenting all of the activities.

    Olga Mashkina (EU4Ocean) thanked the Atlas Team for presenting all the links between the Atlas and EU4Ocean. She is very happy with the collaboration and likes the creative ways in which the Atlas is being used (e.g. Treasure Hunt). She believes a stronger link can be made between the 'Make Europe Blue' campaign and the Atlas in the coming 6 months. She suggests more individual connections could be made with the Atlas Ambassadors and teachers who use the Atlas could submit a pledge in the 'Make Europe Blue campaign'. She invites Nathalie Van Isacker (EMODnet Secretariat) and Alessandra Portis (DG MARE Communication Unit) to brainstorm with her how to further enhance the collaboration.

    Nathalie Van Isacker (EMODnet Secretariat) thinks that this is a good idea, and the Sea Basins Events are already an opportunity to develop further links. The Atlas Team is retweeting announcements made by the EU4Ocean Coalition for these events so that the Atlas community is informed. Discussion on how to increase these collaborations would be a good idea.

    • Action 1: Organise a meeting, in the next phase, with Alessandra Portis (DG MARE Communication Unit), Olga Mashkina (EU4Ocean) and the Atlas communication team to discuss ways that the collaboration could be enhanced on communication and ways synergies could be further strengthened.
    1. Monitoring performance

    Web traffic analysis and trends

    Presentation: asc8_04_monitoring_performance_webtrafficanalysis.pdf

    Tim Collart (EMODnet Secretariat) presented the Atlas statistics. There has been a tremendous increase in the number of yearly Atlas visitors with nearly 120,000 visitors so far in 2021. A big increase in the number of visitors came around the time of the release of version 6 of the Atlas with the availability of the Atlas in 24 languages and the implementation of the new communication plan.

    The audience of the Atlas also diversified with the availability of the Atlas in 24 languages. Several countries are well represented in Atlas visitors' statistics including Greece, Portugal and Belgium.

    Most often visitors come to the Atlas through direct entry, indicating they have bookmarked it in their browser and frequently use the atlas. Traffic also comes from search engines. Many people find the Atlas through the Maps of the Week posted on the Maritime Forum and EMODnet Central Portal when they search for a marine topic on the Internet. The Map of the Week is a tool that we should keep in the future given that it is an important driver for traffic on the Atlas. Maps are increasingly being embedded on various external websites. A huge spike of visitors followed the publication of an online article published on the French version of Euronews in which a map from the Atlas was embedded. Visitors also come to the Atlas from social media like Facebook and Twitter. Reaching out to online content creators to promote the Atlas as an easy-to-use tool to display high quality information on websites/blogs/news articles is a promising action to expand the atlas audience. 

    On average, every visitor loaded 2.1 map layers during a visit (it is noted that the Countries Layer is loaded by default upon direct entries, which represent about 1/3rd of all visits). The majority of layers loaded are not in a monthly top 5, indicating that the atlas users are interacting with the wide diversity of maps available in the atlas catalogue. Some layers experience spikes in traffic as they are featured in popular news articles/events/maps of the week/social media posts. Some layers are frequently in the monthly top 5 as people use the Atlas as a reliable source for the information in these maps.

    Service monitoring tool

    Presentation: asc8_04_monitoring_performance_servicemonitoringtool.pdf

    Clara Becares (Bilbomática) presented the service monitoring tool. The monitoring tool automatically checks the map services regularly. This allows to identify potential issues with map layers and to contact the data providers to resolve them quickly.

    Bilbomática has been developing a new monitoring tool based on the open-Source GeoHealthCheck project, and expanding it to meet the needs of the atlas (e.g. monitoring of Esri Services). Monitoring parameters can be adapted according to the needs (e.g. frequency of testing a map layer according to the stability of a map layer). The deployment of the tool is currently on hold, but will be continued in the next phase if the proposed work plan by the current team is accepted.

    Jan-Bart Calewaert (EMODnet Secretariat) pointed out that this tool is very efficient in detecting issues and makes it possible to act early in these cases. This allows for a good quality of service. Zoi Konstantinou (DG MARE) agreed that the tool is very useful and it is certainly a priority in 2022. 

    1. Content development

    Presentation: asc8_05_content_development.pdf

    Tim Collart (EMODnet Secretariat) presented content development in the Atlas.

    New data providers over the past 2 years

    EMODnet is the main data provider for the Atlas. New data providers include the Horizon 2020 Atlas project (A Trans-AtLantic Assessment and deep-water ecosystem-based Spatial management plan for Europe), Copernicus Marine Service, the EU4Ocean Platform, the Network of European Blue Schools and the Youth4Ocean Forum.

    Content achievements: new and updated maps

    Tim Collart (EMODnet Secretariat) indicated it has been a productive phase for the atlas, as 37 new map layers have been added to the Atlas over this period and 78 map layers have been updated. He discussed the list of map layers that have been added and updated.

    The Atlas Team added new maps from EMODnet Human activities, Physics and Bathymetry. The team started a collaboration with Copernicus Marine Service with the inclusion in the Atlas of two maps for which they provided the data. The team also added maps from Eurostat and the Horizon 2020 Atlas project. The Atlas project maps show predicted climate change impact on vulnerable Deep-sea ecosystems. Maps have also been added with data from DG MARE. As mentioned above, a map of the Atlas Ambassadors will be published soon. Three maps from EU4Ocean communities (the EU4Ocean Platform, the Network of European Blue Schools and the Youth4Ocean Forum) have been added to the Atlas showing who the members of these communities are.

    The Atlas Team updated 78 maps layers from different data providers. This included updating the data behind the map layers as well as functional improvements to the map layers. For example, the map on aquaculture by species has been improved to become much more user-friendly and the team has ensured that the Atlas supports different alphabets. The map on rivers and lakes was updated based on users' feedback. Nice interactions with users help the team improve the map layers. Some visitors of the Atlas look at the map layers carefully and contact the Atlas Team with questions or comments for improvements.

    Tim Collart (EMODnet Secretariat) explained that there is a feedback form in the Atlas that users can complete to communicate with the Atlas Team. In workshops and events organised by the Atlas Team, the team organises surveys to get direct feedback from the audience. The Atlas Team also received feedback from the partners Escola Azul and Nausicaá.

    Recommendations for the future

    Collecting feedback from Atlas users within the framework of EU4Ocean is something to be further developed. Olga Mashkina (EU4Ocean) pointed out that we could ask the participants of sea basin events where a presentation on the Atlas has been made what their needs are by carrying out surveys.

    • Action 2: Organise surveys in the framework of EU4Ocean Sea Basin events to collect information on the needs of Atlas users and potential future users

    Helen Lillis (JNCC) pointed out that she has comments on the current categorization of sea bed habitats map layers in the Atlas and suggested organizing a separate meeting to discuss this. Tim Collart (EMODnet Secretariat) agreed to meet with her to discuss these comments. Jan-Bart Calewaert (EMODnet Secretariat) noted that there is an opportunity to review the categorization of map layers.

    • Action 3: Organise a meeting with Helen Lillis (JNCC) to discuss the categorization of sea bed habitats map layers in the Atlas

    Natalia Orio Moreno (Bilbomática) explained that the Atlas Team manages content for new map layers with a Word document request form shared by e-mail with the data providers. For the future, she recommends developing an online tool with this request form to get all necessary content. Tim Collart (EMODnet Secretariat) agreed that this would facilitate the process.

    Chantal Vanhove (DG MARE) underlined that the Atlas has been growing fast. People are giving hints on what can be added. DG MARE is satisfied with the developments and progress made with the Atlas. There is still room for further improvement.

    Zoi Konstantinou (DG MARE) is very pleased with the evolution of the Atlas and where it is going. She pointed out that part of the content should be user driven. There is a lot of scientific information available and it would be a good idea to see how this could be made more accessible. It is important to translate the data in a way that people can easily understand. Tim Collart (EMODnet Secretariat) explained that the Atlas Team works closely with data providers to write descriptions of map layers that are understandable by a wide audience and to optimize the way data is visualized. Olga Mashkina (EU4Ocean) agreed with Zoi Konstantinou on the importance to translate data and information for target audiences. This is done in EU4Ocean. More efforts will go into this in the future with the objective of reaching more pro-active engagement of citizens for a sustainable ocean in the future.

    1. Technical developments

    Presentation: asc8_06_technical_developments.pdf

    Historical overview

    Clara Becares (Bilbomática) presented the historical overview of work achieved on technical developments over the past years. The main objectives have been to develop the Atlas into a user-friendly map viewer and to work on content improvement, solid technical backend and high-quality software with an overall teachers and schools oriented approach. The Atlas map viewer has been much improved as can be seen from the images (see presentation).

    Bilbomática has also done preparatory work for the interactive help functionality, the new monitoring tool and the integration of the EU Login, which will be important for the My own maps functionality.

    Jan-Bart Calewaert (EMODnet Secretariat) indicated that the Atlas Team is working on the final report. It will show the evolution of the Atlas over time.

    Recommendations for the future

    Clara Becares (Bilbomática) made the following recommendations for the future:

    • My own maps, especially for teachers and schools
    • Monitoring tool to check the services with more details
    • Interactive help
    • Need to keep working on the translations

    In the coming three months, the Atlas will be in a maintenance mode. No new developments will be done. Work will focus on continuity of high-quality service.

    Chantal Vanhove (DG MARE) expressed gratitude to the entire Atlas team. She pointed out that it has been an incredible journey. She found that what has been developed over this 4-year phase is amazing, highlighting that the Seascape and Bilbomática teams have managed things very efficiently. Zoi Konstantinou (DG MARE) agreed with Chantal Vanhove. Collaboration has been very smooth. She really likes the suggestions for the future.

    Zoi Konstantinou (DG MARE) indicated that, depending on the needs, requests for translations can be made every year to every 6 months. Some of the ideas are very interesting and will be discussed.

    1. Any other business and/or particular feedback

    Grigore Rischitor (DG MARE) shared the following link with the other participants of the meeting: The article provides figures on pupils and students enrolled in education in the European Union. They are all potential users of the Atlas. He tried to understand why the Atlas is not used more widely in schools. The Atlas is not included in the curriculum. Translations are very important for wider use of the Atlas.  He suggested that Atlas Ambassadors could promote the inclusion of the Atlas in the curriculum in their countries.

    Jan-Bart Calewaert (EMODnet Secretariat) indicated that there is enormous potential. Increased use of the Atlas in schools is work in progress.

    Tim Collart (EMODnet Secretariat) informed participants that the Atlas Team plans to participate in the upcoming Flemish Geography Teachers Association (VLA) Congress in October this year. The objective of this is to work towards the inclusion of the Atlas in the curriculum. It is important to work with partners. Nathalie Van Isacker (EMODnet Secretariat) confirmed that partnerships are essential to reach this objective. Existing partnerships can be further developed and new opportunities for partnerships can be sought based on contacts that have been established in workshops and via Twitter.

    Zoi Konstantinou (DG MARE) pointed out that the curricula are not always developed in such a way that the Atlas can be mentioned. It is important to develop further contacts with teachers and schools. If they find content to support the curriculum in their country, this will bring the Atlas in the schools.

    Jan-Bart Calewaert (EMODnet Secretariat) indicated that the processes are different in the various countries. Replicating partnerships like those of Nausicaá and Escola Azul, who are knowledgeable of the educational landscape in their country, to other Member States will be important to reach this objective.

    • Action 4: Further develop partnerships to work towards the inclusion of the Atlas in the education curriculum in countries across Europe and increase its use in schools

    Grigore Rischitor (DG MARE) pointed out that more content will be made available from studies in the future which could be included in the Atlas. Tim Collart (EMODnet Secretariat) acknowledged this, referring to the discussion on the process to collect data for new map layers and suggestions made by Clara Becares to facilitate the process. This will be important to manage new content in the future.

    Conor Delaney (EMODnet Secretariat) suggested that it would be interesting to construct lessons plans with e-learning standards and see if it leads to further uptake of the Atlas by teachers. In addition, he raised attention on the need to address scalability. The Atlas works very well. If a much larger number of people use the Atlas, there will be a need to manage this larger audience.

    1. Conclusions and forward look

    Jan-Bart Calewaert (EMODnet Secretariat) concluded the meeting thanking the presenters and participants for a very informative and efficient meeting. The meeting provided a very wide overview of achievements over the past years as well as clear lessons learned and recommendations for future evolution of the Atlas. He indicated that the Atlas Team will remain available to receive any comments following the meeting.

    Zoi Konstantinou (DG MARE) thanked everyone for their dedication and hard work. She looks forward to the future. Chantal Vanhove (DG MARE) thanked everyone for what has been achieved and the way everyone worked together.

    End of the Meeting


    Annex 1 – List of participants



    Chantal Vanhove


    Zoi Konstantinou


    Grigore Rischitor


    Tim Lemmens


    Alessandra Portis


    Fabienne Jacq


    Alberto Telletxea


    Natalia Orio Moreno


    Clara Becares


    Jan-Bart Calewaert

    EMODnet Secretariat

    Conor Delaney

    EMODnet Secretariat

    Tim Collart

    EMODnet Secretariat

    Nathalie Van Isacker

    EMODnet Secretariat

    Florence Huron


    Alessandro Pititto


    Helen Lillis


    Olga Mashkina