OSPAR Commission

The North-East Atlantic region stretches from the coast of Greenland eastward to the North Sea, and from the North Pole southward to the Straits of Gibraltar. 

Its habitats range from tidal mud flats to steep cliffs, from shallow estuaries to the deep seabed. Its ecosystems range from kelp forests to seagrass beds to deep cold-water coral reefs. 

The sea is rich in marine life, and the air above includes the East Atlantic Flyway, a migratory route for millions of birds who use the coasts for feeding and nesting.

The region faces threats through pollution, from the land, shipping and offshore installations, through pressures on fish stocks from over fishing, through coastal development and even through exploiting the seabed for sand and gravel.

Oslo Convention was adopted in 1972 to prevent the dumping of hazardous substances at sea, and was soon followed by the 1974 Paris Convention dealing with land-based sources of pollution. These legal instruments have now merged and modernised into the present day Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic of 1992 (OSPAR Convention), which entered into force in 1998. 

The new OSPAR Convention is based on the following main principles: the ‘precautionary principle'; the ‘polluter pays principle'; the Best Available Techniques (BAT); and the Best Environmental Practice (BEP). 

The Convention's implementing body, the OSPAR Commission, brings together 15 countries, the European Union, and observers from 27 non-governmental organizations, representing both environmental groups and industry.

The grounding of the Torrey Canyon in 1967, which released 117,000 tonnes of oil with disastrous consequences for the environment, was a pivotal point for international cooperation to combat marine pollution in the North-East Atlantic.

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