by Dietlind Jering
The "Healthy Oceans - Productive Ecosystems (HOPE)" Conference was organised by the European Commssion on 3 and 4 March 2014 in Brussels under the lead of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik.
It was attended by more than 400 representatives of governments, regional groupings, academia, industry and civil society organisations active inprotecting and managing the EU oceans and seas in a more sustainable manner.
The participants assessed the progress made since the adoption, in 2008, of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The Directive deals with the human induced pressures on the marine environment and increase its resilience in the face of climate change and other man-made pressures.
By setting internationally acclaimed targets for 2020, the Directive aims at achieving and then maintaining good environmental status of the marine environment. It is intended to operationalise this framework through context-specific tailor-made actions by EU Member States and the many stakeholders of healthy seas. Ultimately, stewardship of healthy seas as a common public good is a matter of citizenship and demoncratically legimtised gouvernance.
The conference offered many opportunities to cast light on the challenges and explore the transformations in production and consumption patterns necessary to achieve healthy oceans and productive environments. The plenary stream of the conference saw a succession of speakers from Europe and elsewhere in several moderated thematic sessions, interspersed by speed talks to allow projects or organisations to make 3 minute pitches for their cause. Parallel break-out sessions on both days allowed to go deeper into some technical topics. Breaks and networking luncheons offered additional opportunities of exchange.
Discussions of the stakeholders on the state of the marine environment recognised that there were knowledge gaps and that the collective scientific knowledge needs to be increased and made available to all citizens. Several speakers argued for a need to look into cumulative impacts and to better understand resilience, natural capital and system limits of Europe's regional seas and their connections with global oceans
On the strength of the available evidence, there was consensus about of the serious decline of the marine resources as a result of excessive pressures on the European seas and océans. Fishing overcapacity, destructive catching methods, pollution and other drivers required urgent action to reverse their current state.
It can be done as was shown in the past by cleaning up beaches and generally improve bathing water quality across Europe, though at current trends good environmental status is not going to be achieved according to needs and existing international objectives.
To this end, the Conference adopted a Declaration of Hope that calls for a halt of the loss of biodiversity, for a  restoration of the fish stocks, for coping with climate change in order to limit acidification of the oceans, to reverse eutrophiction, and for combatting all other sources of pollution in particular the marine litter. The majority opinion expressed in the declaration emphasises the need to fix clear objectives at EU and international levels.
Professor Laurence Mee, Director of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, spoke about the dire state of European seas. He blended arts and good science to argue that the whole system involved in interactions with the sea, particularly from an economic perspective, needed to be understood and involved in the transformation towards restoration to achieve a healthy and productive state. He argued forcefully for more integrated approaches in the future that included a vision for people as part of the system and would entail better understanding of resilience, our "natural capital" and the system limits (considering that we are living in ecological overshoot since several years, among others). Engaging citizens on a broad front would require indicators that people can relate to as well as regionally adapted strategies. He considered "Learning by doing" a key method to be successful in shaping compatible forms of development and conservation that would also involve a common framework for marine spatial planning. Click here for the slides of this presentation and here for more information about the entire conference.
Sadly, Lowry Evans, Director General of DG MARE, and Karl Falkenberg, Director General of DG Environment, agreed in the concluding session that it was not feasible to achieve good environmental status by 2020. So what have all the responsible actors in EU Member States been doing since the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 which adopted the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation containing time-bound objectives for 2015? Read more about the critical perspective of the Fisheries Secretariat on the HOPE Conference.

Mundus maris used the conference for useful networking and drawing attention to the open invitation to young citizens and their schools in Europe and around the world to celebrate World Oceans Day 2014 and get involved actively in protecting the oceans. It's among the many efforts to broaden public engagement in the restoration and protection of the oceans. The initiative takes place under the auspices of Mrs. Maria Damanaki, Member of the European Commission in charge of fisheries and maritime affairs so as to engage people from an early age in studying and protecting our oceans.