The European Commission (EC) sponsors research into Europe’s continental margins because the marine environment is of critical importance to the European Union: 50% of Europe’s territory lies offshore, 25 Member States have coastlines, and more than half of Europe’s population lives within 50 km of the coast. Europe relies on the ocean for trade, food, resources, and jobs. The exploitation of the deep sea (beyond the continental shelf) is increasing through bottom trawl fishing and hydrocarbon exploration and production. However, the deep ocean environment is still poorly understood. The deep sea supports the largest biosphere on Earth, regulates climate, and contains vast natural resources. It is estimated that around 90% of all known species live in the ocean and seas, but within this environment the seabed contains by far the highest biodiversity. There is a clear need to understand this environment and its role in Earth’s system more fully and to regulate it for sustainable exploitation before it is too late.