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Europe Must Not Lose Momentum In Marine Biodiversity Research

November 20, 2012

A new Marine Board Future Science Brief presents a roadmap for marine biodiversity science in Europe and warns against complacency.

The ocean provides 95% of the habitable space on Earth and harbors a vast diversity of life. Biodiversity underpins the health of the oceans and their productive ecosystems which are essential for human well-being and prosperity. But marine life is under significant threat from climate change and from increasing human impacts including pollution, overfishing and ocean acidification. Marine biodiversity research and its role in supporting maritime policies and management is the subject of new Future Science Brief from the European Marine Board, entitled: “Marine Biodiversity: A Science Roadmap for Europe.”

Europe has a long history of marine biodiversity research. Inventories of marine plants and animals have been compiled for hundreds of years, mainly through the work of scientists working in universities, museums, marine stations and fisheries institutes. More than 33,000 species have now been identified in the seas around Europe, 760 of these since the beginning of this century. At global level, the recently completed Census of Marine Life concluded that we have now identified approximately 240,000 marine species, while current estimates of the total number of living marine species range from 0.7 million to 2.2 million. These figures do not include the microscopic Bacteria or Archaea that likely include millions of different types. In fact our knowledge deficit of microbial communities is particularly acute. The microscopic Archaea, for example, were only classified as a separate domain of life in the late 20th century.

Dr. Kostas Nittis, Chair of the European Marine Board, explains the rationale for a policy paper on marine biodiversity: “in the past ten years many good biodiversity initiatives were funded and we made a lot of progress, but we are still a long way from a comprehensive understanding of marine biodiversity, how it is changing and what the implications of those changes are for human society.” Dr. Nittis also stresses that without adequate long-term support for marine biodiversity research and observation, the EU and European countries will struggle to meet both internal biodiversity targets and the requirements of key global conventions on biodiversity and sustainable development.

In this first of a new series of Future Science Briefs, the Marine Board takes a look at the recent progress that has been made in developing a clearer knowledge and understanding of marine biodiversity and the major gaps in our knowledge and research capacities which still exist. The paper also examines the policy landscape for biodiversity both in Europe and internationally and highlights the critical importance of science-policy interfaces for effective decision-making and ocean stewardship. The science brief concludes with a high-level roadmap to guide future marine biodiversity research in Europe which presents ten research priorities and six strategic recommendations. These are designed to help both science leaders and policy-makers to target resources and funding at areas of need and to maintain Europe´s position as a global leader in marine biodiversity research.

The lead author of the paper, Professor Carlo Heip of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research (NIOZ), sums up the key message of this Future Science Brief: “biodiversity research and observation are imperative, not just to explain what we observe today, but how marine biodiversity will change in the future as a result of natural and human pressures. This requires good science, strong European collaboration, enhanced observing systems, advanced research infrastructures, and effective science-policy interfaces.”

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