A Marine Strategy

There are 22 different states on the Mediterranean—only seven of them are members of the European Union. The risk is that the sea is be reduced to a res nullius,  a ‘tragedy of the commons’. At Slow Fish, we intend to pre-empt the issues on the agenda at the upcoming G7 Environment Ministers Meeting in Bologna. We believe, in fact, that it is necessary to intervene. To do so we have to think on a continental scale, paying careful attention to words that have yet to enter the political lexicon.

‘Europe expects it of us,’ goes the often-tiresome mantra, but there’s also a Europe that ‘expects’ something other than what we have grown used to hearing on the news. This is the case of the Marine Strategy; a set of environmental policies developed to monitor and ensure the quality of water according to certain parameters.

Everything began with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive 2008/56/EC issued by the European Parliament and the Council, adopted in Italy with Legislative Decree 190 in 2010.

The Directive seeks to deliver the environmental pillar of future maritime policy for the European Union and sets Member States the target of achieving a ‘good environmental status’ (GES) for their waters by 2020. Each state thus has to implement a strategy involving a preparation phase and a program of measures for each marine region or sub region.

By ‘good environmental status’ we mean the capacity to preserve the ecological diversity and vitality of the seas and oceans by maintaining the use of the marine environment at a sustainable level. To enable states to achieve this target, the directive also established eleven descriptors for determining the conditions of good environmental status.

So how has the political and administrative machine moved to date? “Italy has done its bit so far,” says Silvio Greco, marine biologist and member of the work group set up by the Ministry of the Environment to address Italy’s marine strategy, “with conviction and a sizable investment of resources.”

To pursue conservation and impact mitigation policies it will be necessary to wait for all the results of ongoing fact-finding, but according to Greco, who is also the president of the Slow Fish Scientific Committee, it is already possible to identify some of the interventions needed. “A law to reduce packaging is unavoidable if we are to manage the waste cycle virtuously.” he says, “But it would also be useful to think in terms of a ban on the use of microplastics in creams and toothpastes.”

If national policy is making itself felt, coordination on a broader scale is not always that smooth. As Greco points out, 21 different states look onto the Mediterranean but only seven of them are members of the European Union.

The risk, therefore, is that the sea is going to be reduced to res nullius and that no one will take responsibility for this ‘tragedy of the commons,’ the latest of many. The alarm is tied, above all, to global warming, especially insofar as there is no way of finding clear signs of crisis in water, and even where this is possible it is often hard to make them out. “We realize that a forest is suffering from acid rain because we see the burnt leaves, but in the sea it’s much more difficult to grasp the effects the climate has. One of the alarm signals is the huge proliferation of jellyfish in our waters, a phenomenon that is no longer cyclical but constant.”

Yet there is no shortage of events to provide food for thought: “The dry spell we have experienced over the last few months, for example, is as much an emergency for the sea as it is for the countryside: small fish such as anchovies and sardines don’t reproduce without fresh water. Without a sufficient flow of fresh water from the Po or the Ebro, say, these species are the first to suffer especially since the Mediterranean is a very salty sea.”

“For all these reasons,” concludes Greco, “at Slow Fish we intend to anticipate the issues that will be discussed at the upcoming G7 Environment Ministers Meeting in Bologna. We believe, in fact, that it is necessary to intervene and that to do so we have to think on a continental scale, paying careful attention to words that have yet to enter the political agenda.”

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