The oceans have long been the centre of economic activity.
People have been living near the sea, feeding themselves by fishing and making their livelihoods on the coast for thousands of years.
The challenge today is harnessing the potential of this Blue Economy.
The European Commission has developed an Action Plan for Innovation in the ‘Blue Economy’ aimed at using ocean resources to sustainably drive growth and jobs in Europe.
The Commission pointed out this morning that with two-thirds of the planet covered by oceans and seas, managing them in a responsible manner can provide sources of food, medicine and energy, and can protect the environment for generations to come.
The EU's maritime or “blue economy” is vast, with more than 5m employees in sectors as diverse as fisheries, transport, marine biotech and offshore renewables.
Blue growth is a focus area in the new Horizon 2020 programme, with a specific €145m budget for 2014-2015 alone, and further opportunities across the programme.
Between 2007 and 2013, the European Commission contributed an average of €350m a year towards marine and maritime research through its seventh Framework Programme.
A substantial amount of marine research is also carried out through Member States' programmes (around €300m per year in France and Germany, for example).
“Today, we put the building blocks in place so that tomorrow's generation of Europeans will have the knowledge and skills to better manage our oceans and draw the full benefits they can provide us, while respecting the balance of the ecosystem of the sea,” European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki said.
“For example, our initiative to create a digital map of the entire seabed of European waters will increase the predictability for businesses to invest, lowering costs and stimulating further innovation for sustainable blue growth.”
Action plan for the ‘Blue Economy’
The Commission identified a number of hurdles to be overcome: our limited knowledge about the sea, maritime research efforts between Member States that are not linked up, and a lack of engineers and scientists to apply new technologies in the marine environment.
“We probably know more about the surface of the moon and even Mars than we do about the deep sea floor,” European Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said.
“Maritime innovation has enormous potential for our economy, and will help us meet challenges, such as climate change and food security. Blue Growth is therefore a focus area for Horizon 2020, our new research and innovation programme.”
The Action Plan includes efforts to deliver a digital map of the entire seabed of European waters by 2020.
It also aims to create an online information platform on marine research projects across the Horizon 2020 programme.
A Blue Economy Business and Science Forum will involve the private sector, scientists and NGOs to help shape the blue economy of the future and share ideas and results.
A first meeting will take place in the margins of the 2015 Maritime Day event in Piraeus, Greece.