Assessing the state of marine biodiversity in the Northeast Atlantic – for the first time, ever!

A paper has recently come out that I’m really, really proud of.

As you might (or might not!) know, the EU countries are committed to achieving Good Environmental Status (GES) in their marine waters under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The UK is following a parallel process with the same commitment under the UK Marine Strategy, which also has the objective of Good Environmental Status. OSPAR is coordinating this work at the regional scale, and delivered an Intermediate Assessment in 2017 (IA2017). As the chair of the OSPAR Pelagic Habitats Expert Group, I work on the biodiversity aspects of GES. IA2017 was (somehow!) five years ago now, but as a quick refresher, IA2017 brought together over 200 scientists and 40 policy-makers to perform this first assessment of marine biodiversity indicators in the Northeast Atlantic, from plankton to mammals to food webs.

However…. IA2017 didn’t really determine GES for most indicators; we just didn’t get that far in many cases.

Our new paper, however, presents a first attempt to actually assess the biodiversity status of the indicators used in IA2017. We use a simple, semi-quantitative approach to evaluate holistically the state of Northeast Atlantic biodiversity.

We found that, overall, the state of marine biodiversity in the Northeast Atlantic is not good. 25% of indicators were in poor status, 56% of indicators were in uncertain status, and only 18% were in good status.

We did find some bright spots though! These include recent signs of recovery in some fish and marine bird communities and recovery in harbour and grey seal populations and the condition of coastal benthic communities in some regions. 

Our analysis revealed widespread degradation in marine ecosystems and biodiversity, particularly for marine birds and coastal bottlenose dolphins, as well as for benthic habitats and fish in some regions. The poor biodiversity status of these ecosystem components is likely the result of cumulative effects of human activities, such as habitat destruction or disturbance, overexploitation, eutrophication, the introduction of NIS, and climate change.

The status of many indicators across all ecosystem components, but particularly for the novel pelagic habitats, food webs and NIS indicators, however, remains uncertain due to gaps in data, unclear pressure-state relationships, and the non-linear influence of some pressures on biodiversity indicators. We are working hard to address these issues to make future assessments more robust and meaningful for policy-makers.

The work published here was conducted by the same experts involved in the OSPAR process, but has no formal link to any policy regulation. However, this work will underpin delivery of the next OSPAR biodiversity Quality Status Report assessment to be published in 2023, which will in turn contribute to MSFD national reporting due in 2024.

Abigail, Plankton and Policy

Read more: McQuatters-Gollop, A., Guérin, L., Arroyo, N.L., Aubert, A., Artigas, L.F., Bedford, J., Corcoran, E., Dierschke, V., Elliott, S.A.M., Geelhoed, S.C.V., Gilles, A., González-Irusta, J.M., Haelters, J., Johansen, M., Le Loc’h, F., Lynam, C.P., Niquil, N., Meakins, B., Mitchell, I., Padegimas, B., Pesch, R., Preciado, I., Rombouts, I., Safi, G., Schmitt, P., Schückel, U., Serrano, A., Stebbing, P., De la Torriente, A., Vina-Herbon, C., 2022. Assessing the state of marine biodiversity in the Northeast Atlantic. Ecological Indicators 141, 109148.

About Abigail McQuatters-Gollop

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

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