Thus far, the use of the world's oceans has been linked to the mistaken belief in an inexhaustible supply of resources and an unlimited capacity for regeneration. The consequences are high ecological risks and considerable negative impacts on the marine environment. Even though the United Nations declared 1998 the "Year of the Ocean" in order to highlight the major importance of the oceans for a global balance, oceans often only become the focus of attention when there is yet another accident, or when packing for a holiday by the sea.
Threats are posed by inputs of persistent pollutants (for example substances that are non-degradable or not readily degradable in water) and excessive nutrient inputs via rivers, as well as the widespread transport of pollutants via the atmosphere (see info: Environmental Status of European Seas). As a result, organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were formerly used as insulation, hydraulic or cooling fluids, can be detected in remote polar regions. Other hazards to the marine environment are caused by shipping (for example illegal disposal of wastes, accidents, problems caused by antifouling paints) and inputs of oil and pollutants from the offshore oil and gas industry. Marine ecosystems are also endangered by overfishing and other negative effects of fishing on marine species and habitats. A further threat is that of climate change and entailing effects such as sea level rise and shifts and changes in flora and fauna of certain sea areas.
As pollution of and processes in the oceans do not stop at political borders, successful marine environmental protection can only be achieved by means of intensive international cooperation at regional and global level. The Federal Republic of Germany is therefore a Contracting Party to all relevant Conventions. Such intensive cooperation occurs inter alia within the framework of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, including the North Sea (OSPAR Convention) and the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (Helsinki Convention), the International Conferences on the Protection of the North Sea and their follow-up, the Trilateral Governmental Conferences on the Protection of the Wadden Sea and the Agenda 21 for the Baltic Sea area (BALTIC 21).