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As Commissioner in charge of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, I fully support the petitions recently initiated by the Expédition MED, and Polygnosi concerning the continuous contamination of the Mediterranean Sea from plastic particles.

I understand the scale of the problem as well as the outrage of citizens at dirty beaches, at plastic bags found in deepwater Mediterranean canyons, at plastic particles ingested by marine mammals.

Preserving the Mediterranean Sea is not only a matter of environmental sustainability. It is also a matter of considerable economic and social implications.

The problem is really complex. It requires a combination of measures and a close cooperation at many levels (regional, national, European, international).

Last November, a Workshop took place in Brussels with the title “Marine Litter: Plastic Soup and More”.  The workshop, organised by the Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, was attended by around 90 representatives from Member States governments, institutes, stakeholders such as the plastic industry and NGO’s. The European Commission will also play an active role in the upcoming 5th International Marine Debris conference in March 2011.

The European Commission has a strategy. It is based on:

  • Setting limits on the levels of plastics allowed in the seas. The Marine Framework Strategy Directive mandates the monitoring of levels of contamination in European seas. “Good environmental status” can only be attained when levels of contaminants do not cause harm to coastal and marine environments;
  • Identification of toxic chemicals through the REACH Regulation which obliges manufacturers and importers to gather information on the properties of their chemical substances to register their toxicity in a central database;
  • Further research to understand the scale of the problem and to find solutions to minimise it. A call for proposals was recently launched that aims to put industrial, scientific and environmental bodies together to address societal problems such as these (Mobilisation and Mutual Learning Action Plans on Societal Challenges call – it closes January 2011). We understand that a consortium including European Plastics Converters is preparing a bid;

As far as my area of policy responsibility is concerned, I am committed to making the best use of the tools available in the Integrated Maritime Policy. As a priority, I will support the development of a better monitoring infrastructure so that Member States can collaborate to observe the marine environment. This is described in the “Marine Knowledge 2020″ Communication which I proposed for adoption last September. I will also explore how the Integrated Maritime Surveillance facility and the development of a common information sharing environment for the EU maritime domain can contribute to monitoring marine pollution.

Our European Fisheries Fund gives financial assistance to small scale fishers participating in the collection of litter and lost fishing gears. In France this practice is already in place in the context of the “contrats bleus“. I am very interested in the dissemination of this type of measures whereby, for example, fishermen collect plastic garbage during spawning seasons, during which they are not allowed to fish.

We need more than just legislation. We need better enforcement, but most importantly we need motivation of all those concerned by the protection of the Mediterranean Sea, from industry to the simple citizens. It is important to realize that actions can be local, where the commitment of local governments and their citizens is greater.

I am committed to work with all the concerned citizens to bring about the necessary change, to see current existing legislation be applied more efficiently. We have to investigate the efficacy of recent national initiatives, such as the ban of plastic bags that started in Italy in the beginning of the year. If this measure is to make the difference, we should explore the possibility of generalising it. We have to work together with the industry and the maritime sector, as it is in their common interest to eliminate plastic litter from our seas.

In the coming weeks, together with my colleagues in the European Commission who are responsible for related policy fields, I will work towards an integrated action plan to address the problem of marine plastic litter in a cross-cutting approach.

It is not known whether the problem of plastic marine litter is improving or worsening. However the attention devoted to the issue by environmental groups and citizens is significant. And I would like to thank them for being vocal towards stakeholders and decision-makers. Now, we owe them a concrete reply.

PLASTIC MEDITERRANEAN , 5.0 out of 5 based on 4 ratings

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  1. geoff says:

    Its a shame that you don’t respond to any of the comments on your posts. Makes it all seem rather arms length. Still, at least your blog accepts comments.
    What do you plan to do about the obscene practice of “discard”? I gather that as much as 50% of all fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back dead. I’ve no idea if this is true but 10% would be criminal. I cannot believe that there isn’t a better solution – at the very least land it & let it be given away.
    If I was you, I’d sweep my desk clear & do nothing else until a sensible solution was sorted out.  There does seem to be a groundswell of public opinion against this horrendous waste, so hopefully it will spur you into taking action. Oh for the day when we could deal with this sort of thing nationally via our own elected MPs instead of having to wait on a horse deal with 27 other countries all with different agenda.

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  2. financialtools1 says:

    Dear Commissioner Damanaki :
    Thanks for your work !

    In the USA and around the World, the Mediterranean Sea is a “wonder of the world” : millions of people in Asia , Latin America , North America and Africa dream of visiting its beaches and little towns, cultures and foods, so this is an “economic , health and national security ” issue.
    We see how they build  a “garbage hotel” in Madrid by a German architect to raise these issues, your idea to enlist fishermen to pick up plastic junk in the off-season is very good, maybe we need a movie on this on  ,  and similar tv-online-satellite  networks to spread your points and as you say  “get everybody involved” , but we must clear-up the Mediterranean,  that’s  the immediate focus,  thanks for your work .

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