The Channel is a particular space, the junction between two major geographic features such as: the Atlantic to the west and the North Sea to the north-east. Thus, it is primarily the place of passage almost obliged for ships passing between these two entities: the merchant ships bound for the major northern ports (eg Rotterdam), with flows regulated by the zones of separation traffic (upstream and downstream). The connections between the continent and Great Britain also generate a stream of very large vessels carrying passengers and freight between major ports in English and French, not only in the straits of Pas-de-Calais. For the same reasons, many communication cables (power and transportation), even as gas transportation, are installed in both the east-west than north-south.

From the environmental point of view, the channel is a pathway required for some of Atlantic water masses. The configuration (bathymetry, coastline, ...) Channel will then contribute to the creation of special structures (fronts, gyres, ...) which will control the advection, dispersion of organisms, pollutants ... The Dover Strait is approximately the northern boundary of the channel that opens in the bay south of the North Sea. This transition zone between two ecosystems is so strategic in nature in the context of transfers of water bodies and those living or inert components they contain. The coastline here, as elsewhere, is attracting more and more migration of populations, and is also the repository of watersheds heavily populated and thus generating different types of pollution (eg the Seine and its watershed upstream).

But the channel also contains its own resources, living or not, which attract different operators. These include first for historical reasons since the fisheries sector is geographically diverse rich in fishery resources, settled or not, involving several fleets of Member States (France, Great Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands, Germany). On the other hand, many mineral resources have also been identified (sands and gravels), and if they are already partially exploited, they are subject to a demand for more and more strong and insistent on both sides Channel. The shellfish is also an important activity in some areas.

Some physical and climatic characteristics (tidal regimes and winds, shallow depth and presence of sandy bottoms) also make it a potentially very interesting area for the installation of facilities related to the use of these natural and renewable energies for the production electricity for example. These uses are for many competitors, including access to space (in three dimensions and time). Each of them generates the other, its own interactions (and therefore the risk) with the environment, living or not.

Some of these uses are growing strongly and are well above the regional or local issues (the supply of mineral resources and energy is the national policies of the riparian states, and not only the interests of private enterprises). Today, these conflicts would go even beyond sectoral interests as the awareness of potential risks arising from these various activities is not only for categorical, but also in administrative and decision-making, and societal.

Indeed, these issues become increasingly important for policy makers, who are now faced with conflicting use open, more numerous and strong, even more difficult to resolve that no the time of French politics overall management and sharing of space "Channel". Although there are legal grounds and a few initiatives in this direction are underway, the Channel Challenge is an opportunity to provide some answers to facilitate decision making based on more knowledge.

Numerous and complex questions arise: 

  • How to develop spatial management application in the context of access to historical use of space transportation and fishing and increasing pressure from new users who come into direct competition for access to space and resources?
  • How to reconcile national issues of supply of raw material and energy production with the ecosystem management of fisheries?
  • How to respond to societal issues concerning the nature, intensity and impact of marine pollution and in particular on fisheries resources?
  • Ways of reducing the impact of pollution and fishing on the marine ecosystem?

Contact: Alain LEFEBVRE and Jean-Paul DELPECH,Ifremer Boulogne-sur-Mer