Understanding how the public perceives the marine environment is a central component of the ecosystem approach. Despite the importance of exploring the links between society and the sea, it is still a relatively unexplored dimension of marine science. This paper presents the results of a novel European survey that explores the values, concerns and aspirations of individuals regarding the marine environment in seven countries across four regional seas. It provides an innovative contribution to the literature by refining our knowledge of how public perceptions on the oceans vary significantly by country, region and by demographic variables such as age and gender. Four issues emerge as important from this survey: (1) Concern about the oceans is variable but generally below other environmental concerns in different countries; (2) Ecosystem services, in particular regulatory, cultural and provisioning services that have broader societal relevance are recognised as important by the public; (3) There is a schism between scientific and public perspectives on the key pressures that affect marine systems; and (4) demographic factors such as age or generation can influence perceptions on marine issues more than the proximity of a community to the coastal environment. Public viewpoints on the oceans will play an important, if yet undetermined, role in supporting reforms such as marine planning, the large scale deployment of marine renewables and marine protected areas that have significant social and economic consequences.