EUROPE: Scientists push for deep sea research

Marine and maritime scientists have issued an 'Ostend Declaration' calling on the member states of the European Union and the institutions of the EU to recognise that "the seas and the oceans are one of the grand challenges for the 21st century".

The declaration was made by 430 scientists meeting in the Belgian town for the EurOCEAN 2010 conference on 12-13 October.

The attendees included Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, EU Research Commissioner; Maria Damanaki, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner; Ingrid Lieten, Vice-minister President of Flanders and Flemish Minister for Innovation, Public Investments, Media and Poverty Reduction; Dr Wendy Watson-Wright, head of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of Unesco; and Lars Horn of the research council of Norway and chair of the Marine Board of the European Science Foundation.

"The backside of the moon is better known than the 70% of our planet covered by oceans," said Peter M Herzig, director of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at IFM-GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany, who called for the conference. "In order to meet the challenges of the next decade, major investment in marine sciences and technology is necessary," he said.

During the opening session, EU Commissioner Maria Damanaki highlighted the potential of marine innovation. "New growth can be Blue Growth and new jobs can be Blue Jobs. To create knowledge we need the marine community to continue making ocean measurements," she said.

The Ostend Declaration also appeals to countries to work on an integrated European Ocean Observing Network that meets current social needs and supports the main policy initiatives.

Lars Horn said marine and maritime research in Europe should be shared via common cross-border programmes as it is too great a task for each country individually to undertake.

"For the marine research community to be successful, it must share its data, information and knowledge with its European neighbours as well as the developing world," said Horn. "After all, we must not forget that education and training the next generation of scientists is crucial to maintain Europe's current position in oceanography."

Norway, as coordinator of the joint programming initiative (JPI) 'Healthy and productive seas and oceans', an EU-sponsored scheme promoting research projects in priority areas, had a prominent role at the conference

Christina Abildgaard, Deputy Director General of the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries, said the JPI would cover three main areas: knowledge about the marine system; knowledge for the sustainable exploitation of marine resources; and knowledge for use in political decision-making.

The Ostend declaration refers to "the crucial role of marine and maritime science and technology in providing knowledge and understanding of the seas and the oceans in creating opportunities and technologies, thus supporting Europe 2020 and the innovative union programmes".

It builds on the Galway (2004) and Aberdeen (2007) declarations, evident in the adoption of the integrated maritime policy for the European Union (2007), its environmental pillar for the marine strategy framework directive (2008) and the European strategy for marine and maritime research (2008).

The JPI coordinated by Norway also targets development of the identification and delivery of critical marine research infrastructures.

While Norway is not an EU member state, it is a regular contributor to collaborative programmes and projects under the EU's framework programmes for research and will take a leading role in the 'Healthy and productive seas and oceans' programme.