Europe's Endangered Seas

Pollution, over-fishing, and changing land-use patterns pose a major threat to the Mediterranean and other water bodies, a study finds

A new study looking at the affects of increased European affluence on the continent's seas says the future looks bleak. If something isn't done now, water quality, habitat and European fisheries are in serious trouble.

European waters are in trouble, a new study confirms. Over-fishing is just part of the problem.

It's been well-known for years that European seas are suffering from pollution, over-fishing and other environmental pressures. But now, a new scientific study warns that growing affluence in Europe is increasing the degradation of the water surrounding the continent. The study, produced by a European-Union funded group called European Lifestyles and Marine Ecosystems, also found that if something isn't done soon, the seas could be permanently damaged.

The survey, conducted by over 100 researchers in 15 European countries, focused on the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic. They found that more wealth in Europe, particularly after the break-up of the communist bloc and integration of many former East Bloc countries into the EU, has contributed significantly to the environmental deterioration of European waters.

"In every sea, we found serious damage related to the accelerated pace of coastal development, the way we transport our goods and the way we produce our food on land as well as the sea," Laurence Mee, the ELME project coordinator, told the Telegraph. "Without a concerted effort to integrate protection of the sea into Europe's development plans, its biodiversity and resources will be lost."

The study focused on four interrelated problems: habitat change, eutrophication (the over-fertilisation of water), chemical pollution, and over-fishing. While each of those problems have been studied in the past, the researchers from ELME wanted to look at how they inter-connect and what impact modern lifestyles have are having.

A connection was not difficult to find. As affluence increases, so too does the amount of meat in European diets -- which corresponds to an increase in the amount of farmland needed. The resulting rise in fertilizer use ups the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus reaching European waters -- which can cause excessive plant growth and vast algae blooms in addition to reducing water quality.

Additionally, increased animal husbandry, the study reports, results in an uptick in the amount of ammonia released into the air -- much of which ultimately finds its way into the seas surrounding the continent.

More money in European pockets also means an increase in seaside vacation homes and holiday resorts, particularly along the Mediterranean. Road and resort construction likewise limits important coastal habitats for fish, the study found -- mirroring a similar problem on land. More demand for fish and increased shipping have likewise put pressure on sea life. Study authors wrote that controlling catch limits alone will not put a dent in the problem.

"If we don't address these problems," said Mee, "then we really are shooting ourselves in the foot for future generations."

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