The objective of our proposal is to inventory, summarise and generalise the scientific knowledge on the structure and function of marine biodiversity in coastal marine areas of Europe. Now that the Rio Convention has been ratified by nearly all European countries, and by the European Union, it becomes clear that the knowledge required to cover the obligations of the convention is simply not available, even in Europe where the seas have been explored since hundreds of years and taxonomic and general ecological knowledge is well advanced when compared to other areas of the world. Despite the broad definition of biodiversity adopted in Rio, covering variation in genes, species and habitats, biodiversity has for some time been associated with species and taxonomy only. Several efforts are presently underway to Inventory Europe's flora and fauna. These have shown that a lot remains to be discovered, even in Europe, for example microbial diversity, diversity in cryptic habitats like submarine caves, symbionts and parasites, viruses and fungi etc. Perhaps more important is that the ecological role of biodiversity has hardly been addressed at all.
The relationships between the three components of biodiversity, genetic, species and habitat diversity, have hardly been explored and the role of biodiversity in marine ecosystem functioning is still largely unknown. Marine research has borrowed its concepts and paradigms from terrestrial biodiversity studies and there is no substantial body of knowledge on the subject. Adequate assessment of the risks to marine systems due to species or habitat loss or to accidental species introductions is therefore at present impossible. The proposed Marine Biodiversity Conference aims at increasing relevant knowledge by a stepwise approach in which first an inventory is made of what is known on the three aspects of biodiversity (genes, species, habitat) in shallow coastal areas. From such inventories comparisons and generalisations are possible and the relevant questions and research priorities to understand what causes the observed patterns can be formulated.