The famous American writer Maya Angelou once said “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
Knowing better depends on better access to facts, to data. And when we’re talking about the marine environment, data from the fishing and aquaculture communities and their activities is the gold standard.
That is why it’s so disturbing that current EU regulations don’t foresee all of this data being collected.
For example, this means that that when a bird is accidentally caught, fishermen don’t need to report it. We can’t fix this problem if we don’t know where, when, and why seabirds are being caught and if we can’t fix the problem, seabird populations will continue to plummet.
11 March was a historic day for European seabirds. After years of dialogue, the European Commission has proposed a new legislation that will make it mandatory for all fishing vessels in the EU that incidentally catch seabirds to put in place measures to stop them from doing so.
Seabirds forage in areas of the ocean that are rich in fish, which are also targeted by commercial fishing vessels. This overlap can cause seabirds to be accidentally caught on hooks or entangled in nets meant for the fish. It is estimated that at least 200,000 seabirds are accidentally caught annually in EU waters. This includes species on the verge of extinction such as the Balearic Shearwater. However, until today the EU had not enacted any legally binding legislation for fishers to solve this problem. This proposed legislation is a game changer.
How healthy is the sea you swim in when on vacation? That’s a question many EU Member States have been trying to answer. And it is not just about understanding chemical or plastic pollution, but also if the nature is ‘balanced’.
In 2008, the EU decided that it should have a common strategy to achieve healthy seas. In applying this common strategy, Member States set targets that they sought to reach by 2020. They then laid out their plans – with detailed actions and monitoring measures – to be implemented by 2015.
Fast forward to 2015, and Member States have encountered several road blocks preventing them from being on track to achieving “healthy seas”. The EU is now tasked with revisiting the efforts to set ambitious targets, sufficient actions, and efficient monitoring programmes and see what can still be changed to guide Member States to achieve healthy seas by 2020.
Did you know that we have 82 species of seabird in Europe? You probably recognise the most charismatic ones, like the clown faced Atlantic Puffin and sharp blue-eyed Northern Gannet. But there are many other species you may not know because they actually spend nearly their entire lives out at sea and so are rarely seen, only coming to our shores to breed before flying off again into the deep blue.
Many of these species are in trouble, facing declines and possible extinction based on the latest scientific information. The current situation is clear: urgent action is needed so they don’t disappear from Europe forever.
Marine litter is becoming more common than sand at the beach and it’s threatening the lives of seabirds. In Germany, BirdLife partner NABU is taking some useful actions to combat the issue.
It’s summer time, so it’s only natural that people – especially holiday-goers – are making a beeline for coasts and beaches. But as if jostling for space with other vacationers on the beach and water wasn’t enough, there’s also marine litter to contend with. This may seem like ‘just rubbish’ to us, but for seabirds, its effects can be devastating.
To prove just how serious an issue marine litter is, some of the species threatened by this are those protected under the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives (the laws that establish nature protection for specific species and habitats across the EU). Migratory species, such as the Roseate Tern, which nest in the summer on the northern hemisphere in Europe, gather food in the garbage-filled wintering area in the Gulf of Guinea off the West African coast. Gannets on Helgoland Island in the German Bight build their nests from scraps of degraded plastic strings from ropes used by boats (e.g. shipping and fishing) and fishing gear, in which particularly chicks get entangled or worse, strangled.
The decades-old Fulmar monitoring programme in the North Sea has shown that 95% of the stomachs of dead Fulmars contain plastic, which remains undigested for a lifetime, filling their bellies like a cruel diet pill.