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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Wednesday, 23.05.2018, 02:31

Reducing marine pollution in the Baltics

Eugene Eteris, BC, Scandinavian Office, 20.11.2012.Print version
Marine litter is a serious threat to the coastal and marine environment both around the world and along European sea shores. Marine pollution also hampers tourism, which is important for the Baltic States' development; besides removal of litter on shore in the Baltic Sea is expensive and intolerable. The issue shall be taken seriously by the Baltic Development Forum’s agenda.

The European Commission’s Environment DG has taken the pledge te at the forefront of efforts to reduce marine pollution (mainly in the form of litter and garbage). 


Marine habitats are contaminated with man-made garbage and other waste, posing growing environmental, economic, health and aesthetic problems. The European Commission is raising awareness about this European as well as global problem, in line with commitments made in Rio (in summer 2012) to reduce the incidence and impacts of such pollution on marine ecosystems.


The environmental impacts of marine litter can be felt mostly on marine fauna, but they provide also extra stress on already fragile marine ecosystems, and can affect human health. Marine litter also hampers tourism, and the removal of litter on shore cost several million Euros a year to coastal areas in Europe.


The Marine Strategy Framework Directive requires EU member states to achieve "good environmental status" of their marine waters by 2020. In order to do so, a first step in the implementation is the preparation of an initial assessment (according to Directive’s art. 8) which identifies the main threats to the European Seas.


In addition, member states have to translate their definition of “Good Environmental Status” (GES, art. 9) into concrete criteria against which the monitoring data can be assessed.

 Finally, member states have to set national environmental targets (art. 10). 


Marine litter is one of eleven qualitative descriptors member states must consider when determining GES. All this work has to be done in cooperation between those countries which shared the four European Seas, i.e. the North-East Atlantic, the Baltic, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Commission’s opinion

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "At the Rio +20 Earth Summit in 2012, the world leaders committed to achieving a significant reduction in marine litter by 2025. The European Commission intends to be at the forefront of this effort, working closely with the EU member states, Regional Sea Conventions and stakeholders to identify and develop concerted initiatives to tackle the problem."

Reference: Press release, IP/12/1221; Brussels, 16 November 2012


To raise awareness and stimulate reflection, the Commission has published an overview of the relevant EU legislation, policies and strategies that touch on this problem, with an indication of on-going and future initiatives in this area.


The overview of main legislative instruments can be seen at:

 http://ec.europa.HYPERLINK ""eu/environment/marine/good-environmental-status/descriptor-10/index_en.htm

Problems and solutions

Marine litter is composed of up to 80 % of plastic, and originates from a diverse range of sources. Plastics tend to persist in the marine environment, possibly for hundreds of years, the Commission’s press release underlines.


The EU legislative documents conclude that policies on water, resource efficiency and waste, as well as marine and nature protection policies (together with ship and port infrastructure-related legislation) all have a role to play in tackling the problems. Most important presently is that these policies have to be better implemented properly.


Past EU efforts in sea pollution prevention have been partially hampered by a lack of solid information about the exact scale and nature of the problem. The Commission thinks that this issue should be presently resolved, as better knowledge of the seas’ quality becomes available.


Already by 15 October 2012, EU member states had to submit an initial assessment of the state of their marine waters, their definition of 'Good Environmental Status' and the targets they have set to achieve it ( as part of the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive). Not all member states, however, have been able to report on time.


The Commission is now analysing these reports of the member states and intends to publish its assessment in 2013.


An up-to-date overview of the RU states' reports can be seen at:

Next steps

The EU marine litter paper, together with several on-going pilot projects and the information gathered from the EU member states on the state of their seas under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, will be an important input as the Commission considers a possible EU-wide reduction target as a contribution to the commitment made in Rio+20.


The Commission will now consult with the EU-27 states and other countries, Regional Sea Conventions, stakeholders and other interested parties on how to best take forward actions on marine litter.

This consultation will culminate in an International Conference on Prevention and Management of Marine Litter in European Seas, co-organised by the German Federal Environment Ministry and the European Commission in Berlin in April 2013.


Germany's Environment Minister Altmaier and Commissioner Potočnik will be among the participants of this event that will focus Regional Action Plans for Europe's Seas and aims to come forward with a practical toolbox for action.

For more information see:  

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