Summary: The North Sea is a shallow and rather young ecosystem formed by the flooding of a landmass some 20 000 years ago. Its coasts and waters are still being colonised by new species from the Atlantic. The strong coupling between benthic and pelagic communities in the shallow parts of the sea makes it extremely productive and one of the most productive areas in the world, with a wide range of plankton, fish, seabirds and benthic communities. The North Sea is one of the worldu0092s most important fishing grounds. The sea is also rich in oil and gas. Anthropogenic impacts have been significant for many years. The marine ecosystems are under intense pressure from fishing, nutrient input, recreational use and habitat loss; most notable are the effects of fisheries and eutrophication. Until 1995, pollution was the main issue at the North Sea conferences. Over the last decade, there has been an increasing awareness and concern for the impaired status of several of the North Sea fish stocks, as well as the impact of fisheries on other parts of the ecosystem. The European Commission has recently developed biodiversity action plans, aiming to integrate biodiversity thinking into the areas of e.g. conservation of natural resources, fisheries and aquaculture.
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