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The depth of human dependence on nature

Submitted by on 23 Nov 2010 – 17:33

By Marcus Papadopoulos

As part of the European Union’s aim of becoming the “most dynamic competitive knowledge-based economy in the world”, Brussels in 2007 launched the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7).

With a total budget of €50 billion, FP7’s two main strategic objectives are to “strengthen the scientific and technological base of European industry” and to “encourage its international competiveness, while promoting research that supports EU policies”.

One area which is a focal point for FP7 is deep sea ecosystems and the impact that global climate change is having on life in the deep ocean.

Well away from life as we know it is the world’s deep sea, a place of intrigue and mystery with a depth, on average, of 4,000 metres.  Here in this environment there is no light.  But despite this, life exists here!  Life composed of fish, plants, coral reefs and sea mounts inhabit the environment and have been doing so for millions of years.

In April 2009, the Hotspot Ecosystem Research and Man’s Impact on European Seas (HERMIONE) project was set up to “make a major advance in our knowledge of the functioning of deep sea ecosystems and their contribution to the production of goods and services.”

Having been allocated a budget by FP7 of €8 million, and with a consortium of 38 partners across the EU, HERMIONE, over the course of the next three years, will “create a platform for discussion between a range of stakeholders, and contribute to EU environmental policies.”  Together with this, HERMIONE will “address some of the key gaps in socio-economic and governance knowledge and methodologies as well as developing and implementing appropriate science-policy interface mechanisms to ensure policy-relevance of the research and to facilitate translation of research into policy advice at national, European and international levels.”

HERMIONE is staffed by an array of experts on marine research and environmental socio-economics, including biologists, physical oceanographers, ecologists and microbiologists, who study the deep seas of the Arctic, North Atlantic and Mediterranean.  Through its work, HERMIONE will demonstrate consumer dependency on deep ocean resources.

Man takes for granted his reliance on everyday goods and services, such as oil, gas and minerals, which are produced by marine environment in the deep sea.  Hence, furthering man’s knowledge of this mysterious part of the ocean is, according to HERMIONE, essential as “these ecosystems are now being affected by climate change and impacted by man through fishing, resource extraction, seabed installations and pollution.”  And in order for the EU to formulate a strategy which will tackle the affects of climate change on marine life, HERMIONE avers that it is necessary to “understand the extent, natural dynamics and interconnection of ocean ecosystems and integrate socio-economic research with natural science.”

Speaking to Government Gazette, Professor Philip P.E. Weaver, HERMIONE’s project coordinator, who is based at the University of Southampton, said: “The HERMIONE project is examining deep-sea ecosystems, which, even though they are hundreds of metres below the sea, are under threat due to climate change and human impacts such as bottom fishing and pollution. These fragile ecosystems take thousands of years to develop yet can be destroyed in an instant.  Information from the project will inform UK and European policy development on deep-sea issues. The project is co-ordinated by Professor Weaver from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton and has 4 additional UK partners.”

The severity of the environmental problems facing the planet has been succinctly summed up by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: “The danger posed by war to all of humanity-and to our planer-is at least matched by the climate crisis and global warming.”  Sustaining marine life needs to be a priority of every member state of the EU with the knowledge that society depends heavily on the deep sea for its everyday functioning.

Given the importance of marine life to the planet, the HERMIONE project is an indispensable activity whose work is not just invaluable to the EU but to the world as a whole.  HERMIONE is shedding light for mankind on a world of darkness whose preservation is crucial to mankind’s existence.