Mapping benthic habitats, seabed damage, and monitoring

Advice released on trio of biodiversity indicators for OSPAR and on fishing activity pressure for HELCOM.
Published: 25 August 2015

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Based on requests from the OSPAR and the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), today's advice centres on monitoring of, impacts on, and biodiversity across seafloor (benthic) habitats and the development of indicators in support of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

The work for OSPAR came in three parts: a map illustrating abrasion on the seafloor as a result of fishing pressure, the suitability​ of a reduced list of habitats, and the evaluation of monitoring and assessment requirements. The HELCOM request, meanwhile, was for a similar fishing activity map, in this case across its area of the Baltic Sea.

The first part of the OSPAR request included analysing and bringing together national vessel monitoring system (VMS)​ and logbook data by both geographic distribution and type of bottom-contacting gear used to catch fish in the respective sea areas. The resulting advice contains two sets of maps that denote where and how much seafloor surface damage has been caused, one for the wider OSPAR maritime area of the Northeast Atlantic and another covering the North Sea and Celtic Seas.

Finding characteristic habitats

The second component entailed providing selection criteria for a shortened list of appropriate benthic habitats for what are known as Typical Species Composition indicators.

Koen Vanstaen, involved in both the recent review and advice drafting group, from the UK's Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) explained.

"The typical species indicator looks at what the typical species composition is of certain habitat types. Of course there are loads. It would be a huge job to develop a list for each of these, so we're trying to find some characteristic habitats. Also, we don't have data available for each and every habitat. We have to prioritize based on where data is available and what makes sense from a scientific viewpoint." 

Monitoring monitoring

Monitoring programmes are at the heart of the third prong of today's advice, with the experts detailing what is currently in place and what is lacking. A final assessment on the suitability of each programme in serving OSPAR indicators has been issued as part of the final advice.

"We're developing an indicator to assess the status of habitats," continued Vanstaen. "One of the challenges here is actually getting hold of all the monitoring programmes: who collects what – where? When? How often?"

Coming up with the advice involved the efforts of a number of expert groups, including that on spatial fisheries data (WGSFD), on marine habitat mapping (WGMHM), and on benthic ecology (BEWG).

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subsurface abrasion pressure map OSPAR area

​Subsurface abrasion pressure expressed as the swept area ratio from VMS data between 2009-2013 in part of the OSPAR region with most data.​ Note: caveats apply when interpreting the maps in the advice. 

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Mapping benthic habitats, seabed damage, and monitoring

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