European Commission takes a stand for the ocean by organizing an Ocean Initiative with Surfrider

In preparation for the Our Ocean conference to be held in Malta on 5 and 6 October, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries organized a beach cleanup in Belgium to retrieve waste from the North Sea next to Surfrider. Held as an Ocean Initiative, this event gathered more than 400 citizens: a great  opportunity for Surfrider to ask the DG Mare’s General Director to keep in mind the European stakes in protecting the oceans and more specifically waste and pollution reduction.

Following this successful event, Surfrider asked 4 questions to Joao AGUIAR MACHADO, DG Mare’s General Director for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the European Commission:


  • What was the purpose of this litter collection organised in partnership with Surfrider?

This Ocean Initiative, the very first major beach clean-up by EU staff, is a symbolic action. Its goal was to highlight the problem of marine litter – a growing and alarming phenomenon that endangers our waters. But also to convey the very important message than everyone, individually and collectively, can take action and make a difference.

That is also why we have used the opportunity to call on all administrations around the world to organise similar events. The EU is pushing for better protection of the oceans, but we need to have the international community on our side to be successful.

  • What policy measures and initiatives have been taken recently by the European Commission to reduce pollution of the Ocean and rivers?

Europe has a long maritime history that is very much part of our culture and identity. The oceans and seas represent an enormously important resource that we want to pass on to the future generations. Our mission as the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries is to develop the potential of the European maritime economy and to secure sustainable fisheries, a stable supply of seafood, healthy seas and prosperous coastal communities.

The European Commission as a whole has put in place a set of policies to restore ocean health and to ensure the sustainable development of Europe’s blue economy.  The approach proposed in the Circular Economy Action Plan focuses on preventing waste and on recycling and reusing materials, thereby tackling the issue of marine litter at its very source. In addition to this, the Commission is currently preparing a dedicated plastics strategy. The implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive aims at reducing all pressures and their impacts on the European Seas. The revision of the Port Reception Facilities Directive addresses marine litter produced by ships and is one of the key initiatives of the EU Maritime Year 2017. The Integrated Maritime Policy provides an overarching strategy to use the EU’s ocean resources sustainably – and the International Ocean Governance initiative includes a list of 50 actions for safe, secure, clean and sustainably managed oceans in Europe and around the world. Horizon 2020 addresses the scientific aspect by supporting ocean research.

  • On October 5th and 6th, the Our Ocean Conference hosted by the EU will be held in Malta. What is the objective of this event and what will be the concrete results for EU citizens?

The conference aims to inspire leaders, entrepreneurs, scientists and civil society to identify solutions and commit to actions for safe, secure, clean and sustainably managed oceans.

This year we want to focus on concrete commitments that can have an immediate impact on the oceans, not only from governments, but also from corporate leaders and civil society at large. These could include sustainable seafood sourcing, reduction of plastic consumption and waste, improvements towards circular economy or funding towards innovative conservation projects.

What will be achieved at the conference in terms of commitments is relevant for everyone, also EU citizens. Climate change knows no borders. Fish have neither passports nor nationalities. A plastic bottle entering the ocean in Asia can end up halfway around the world – and will still be floating in the sea when your grandchildren, great-children and even great-great-grandchildren go to the beach.

  • This conference will be celebrated in Malta. Winds and huge waves destroyed two month ago the iconic Azure Window, a sea arch on the Maltese island of Gozo. What does it tell us in terms of climate change impact and preservation of our natural patrimony?

The oceans and all their treasures are our shared heritage, one that we cherish and we want to preserve for the next generations. The sudden collapse of the Azure Window indeed reminds us of the fragility of the marine environment and the urgent need to take action for its conservation. But while one “window” was closed, the Our Ocean conference will open new windows – windows of opportunity for international collaboration and windows with a common view to a more sustainable future for our oceans.

Climate change has an impact on sea levels, and rising temperatures trigger extreme weather events. We’ve all witnessed the effect of this kind of phenomena. In this respect, commitments by businesses, such as the shipping industry, could also help reduce CO2 emissions.

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