ICES Annual Science Conference 2015

Theme Session N

Seafloor habitat mapping: from observation to management

Frank-Detlef Bockelmann (Germany)
Pål Buhl-Mortensen (Norway)
Ibon Galparsoro (Spain)
Steven Degraer (Belgium)
​​​​​Contact conveners​

​The world's oceans support a wide range of seafloor habitats no less intriguing or important than the terrestrial landscape we inhabit. These habitats sustain rich biodiversity, contribute to ecosystem functioning, and provide a multitude of ecosystem services essential for human welfare. At the same time, seafloor habitats are subject to mounting pressure from new ocean developments, creating a demand for more information about the nature of the seabed, its associated assets, and resilience capacity. Seafloor habitat mapping plays an increasingly important role in providing this information by collecting a variety of parameters that help identify baseline environmental conditions, including seafloor physical and biogeochemical characteristics, habitat types, and biological communities. 

Among other applications, this information is used to guide decisions on how to best develop ecosystem-based marine spatial planning, integrated assessments, and monitoring programmes to detect ecosystem change. All of these applications have implications for the implementation of existing maritime conventions and legislations. The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), for instance, requires EU Member States to assess, monitor, and report the good environmental status of their territorial waters by means of descriptors like biological diversity and seafloor integrity. In fact, such evaluations may vary depending on the quality measure of choice as well as the spatial and temporal resolution considered. Hence, the first step towards assessing ecosystem health and evaluating management options is to identify key ecological entities and processes taking into account variations that occur seasonally, over several years, or because of long-term changes in climate. 

Such data sets are, in turn, the foundation upon which monitoring programmes can be developed and help distinguish between natural changes and changes due to human impacts. However, despite the recent advent of national and international seafloor mapping programme​s our understanding of the relationships remains rather incomplete due to difficulties in data access, poor interoperability, and lack of standards. These deficits are widely recognized as significant barriers when communicating information about seafloor habitats to scientists, stakeholders, and decision-makers alike.

This session on seafloor habitat mapping aims to highlight approaches that demonstrate the development and use of habitat maps in the context of marine spatial planning, environmental monitoring, and ecosystem-based management.

In particular, papers on the following topics are welcome:

  • Improvement of our understanding of the distribution and extent of marine species and habitats
  • Examples of how habitat mapping may contribute to MSFD ecosystem quality assessment, environmental monitoring, or management, e.g. mapping indicators of key ecosystem functions and services.
  • Guidance for spatial explicit prioritization and problem identification
  • Assessment of changes in marine habitats as a result of human activity
  • Support of integrated assessments and ecosystem-based marine spatial management
  • Development of standards and protocols that help improve compatibility between maps and data
  • Assessment of accuracy and confidence of predictive habitat maps
  • Data sharing initiatives that ease access to geospatial information for end-users​
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Theme Session N

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