Ireland calls on Europe to recognise the value of the sea

Renewable ocean energy, new cures for disease, a key to assessing climate change trends and impacts are some of the rewards to be gained through research into Europe’s largest natural resource - the ocean. This and the need to better organise and focus marine research within the forthcoming 7th EU Research Framework Programme (2007-2013) is the main message delivered by  Marine Institute Chief Executive Dr. Peter Heffernan,  to a meeting of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and senior EU science and technology policy makers in Brussels today (17th October).

According to the Marine Institute, 50 percent of Europe is underwater.  This area comprising the Exclusive Economic Zones and Continental Shelves of Member States, extends from the Arctic, through the North-East Atlantic, the Baltic Sea, to the Mediterranean and Black Seas.  Figures compiled in 2002, suggest that European marine based industries and services contribute between 3 and 5% of Europe’s GNP. In addition, these waters represent a vast but as yet unexploited natural resource for sustainable wave and tidal energy, aquaculture, transport, leisure and tourism and the new science of biotechnology. Globally, the potential market for maritime industries over the five year period from 2004-2009 is estimated at €4, 363 billion according to a recent Marine Institute analysis.

To sustainably develop this resource requires a proper understanding of the natural and living processes involved and a clear vision of how research should proceed. Such a vision was  provided during Ireland’s Presidency of the EU last year at the EurOcean 2004 Conference (Galway, May 2004). The Galway Declaration, endorsed by some 550 marine scientists, policy-makers and representatives of the marine industry sector called for recognition at Member State and European Community Level of the crucial role of the oceans in climate, carbon cycle and life on earth, the major contribution marine industries can make towards achieving economic, social and environmental targets under the Lisbon Agenda and the essential role of marine science and technology in fuelling this economic achievement. In essence, the creation of a European Marine Research Area.

The Galway Declaration has already been used to advise evolving EU Maritime Policy and the 7th Framework Programme of European funding for research.

“To realise the vision of a European Marine Research Area, wherein we have a thriving maritime economy, in harmony with the environment and supported by excellence in research, as expressed in the Galway Declaration,  requires a cohesive policy towards marine research funding,” said Dr. Heffernan. “At present, marine science and technology issues are widely scattered across the current 6th Framework programme with little linkage or value-added. This situation is likely to continue in the 7th Framework Programme (FP7).

We are calling for a new paradigm, with greater emphasis on marine science and technology issues being incorporated into the various agreed FP7 Thematic Priorities and Programmes. This in turn must be supported by the creation of an appropriate structure, involving both Member States and the Commission, which will ensure greater co-ordination of marine science and technology, and deliver better synergies and value for money in the new 7th Framework Programme.”

The Marine Institute is putting the final touches to its own National Marine Research and Innovation Strategy, devised after extensive consultation with stakeholders and invited experts earlier this year. This strategy will be submitted as part of the national research and innovation strategy currently being formulated by government.