Can Northeast Atlantic pelagic habitat indicators be applied to the Arctic?

Northeast Atlantic marine waters have a long history of collaborative management, with OSPAR the cooperative mechanism for marine environmental management in the Northeast Atlantic. OSPAR is collaboratively implementing ecosystem-based management in this region to meet the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requirements to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) of European seas by 2020. Although OSPAR has recently focused on implementing the MSFD in the Northeast Atlantic, soon OSPAR will expand its efforts towards assessment and achievement of GES in the Arctic.

As part of MSFD delivery, OSPAR has developed three policy-approved, plankton biodiversity indicators for pelagic habitats in the Northeast Atlantic region. These indicators are assessed against targets representing the MSFD’s objective of Good Environmental Status. As you probably already know, plankton are particularly well-suited as indicators of environmental change in pelagic habitats due to their rapid response to changes in climate, hydrology and water quality. They are also fundamental to the marine food web and perform a number of ecological functions, such as the cycling of carbon and key nutrients.


Horrendogram illustrating international, multilateral, bilateral and national policy and cooperation influencing EBM strategies and management in the Arctic. Abbreviations: EU. Int. Mar. Pol. = EU Integrated Maritime Policy, NOR-RUSS Comm On Env. Protections = Norwegian-Russian Commission on Environmental Protection.

Governance of the Arctic is complex (see figure) and although OSPAR is also responsible for achieving GES in the Arctic Ocean, regional plankton biodiversity indicators do not exist. Fortunately, current Northeast Atlantic pelagic habitat indicators are ecologically applicable to the Arctic. This transferability is primarily due to the flexibility of the plankton lifeforms (PH1: Changes in Phytoplankton and Zooplankton Communities) and biodiversity indices (PH3: Changes in Plankton Diversity) indicators that allow selection of regionally-relevant lifeform pairs or species for assessment. However, current national plankton monitoring programmes in the Arctic are insufficient to support the implementation of these indicators. Additional regionally-specific indicators, such as for sympagic (ice-dwelling) phytoplankton and sea-ice biota, are worthy of consideration although they do not exist for Northeast Atlantic waters. Budgetary constraints and a corresponding lack of year-round sampling and long-term datasets were found to be the key limitations in the implementation of OSPAR’s Northeast Atlantic plankton indicators for establishing GES in the Arctic Ocean. Implementing an Arctic-wide plankton monitoring programme would be a significant step towards the assessment of GES for this unique and vulnerable ecosystem.

Beth Siddons,


Plankton and Policy

Read more:

Siddons, B.L., McQuatters-Gollop, A., and Glegg, G. (2018). Inter-regional coherence: Can Northeast Atlantic pelagic habitat indicators be applied to the Arctic? Marine Policy, 96: 53-64.

About Abigail McQuatters-Gollop

Marine biologist, guitarist, cat lover, red wine drinker. I like plankton.
This entry was posted in biodiversity, Indicators, Marine Conservation, MSFD, OSPAR, Plankton, Policy, students, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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