Here you can find terms commonly used in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

This glossary, containing MSFD terms and definitions compiled, created and/or modified by DEVOTES is part of the Deliverable 1.5 “DEVOTES recommendations for the implementation of the Marine Framework Directive” by JRC.




A specific anthropogenic action or pursuit aimed at fulfilling the societal drivers (e.g. the need for food, space, transport) which ultimately have the potential to create the pressures leading to changes in both the natural state and human welfare; examples include fishing, aquaculture, and renewable energy generation.


The suite of methods available to produce a synthesis of the ecosystem complexity and assess the environmental status, when there are different scales of classification needing to be combined. Scales range from geographical (from a single water body, a regional sea or pan-European), temporal (depending on sampling frequency, ranging from minutes to years) or assessment type (entire ecosystem to selected biodiversity components; addressing MSFD descriptors, criteria or indicators).

Alien species

Any live specimens of species, subspecies or lower taxon of animals, plants, fungi or micro-organisms introduced outside its natural past or present distribution; it includes any part, gametes, seeds, eggs, or propagules of such species, as well as any hybrids, varieties or breeds that might survive and subsequently reproduce.


A group of different species that occur together at a given location without the presupposition of any functional relationships between those species.



The value of state at a specific time against which subsequent values of state are compared. Baselines act as yardstick against which thresholds or trends for GES can be set. Baselines can be derived from i) reference state/conditions, ii) a known state in the past, such as the beginning of a time series (e.g. the Large Fish Indicator used 1983 as a first valid data point in the time series) or iii) as a present state. A baseline can be considered a type of ‘reference point’ (as referred to in Annex IV of the Directive), though the term ‘reference point’ should not be confused with ‘reference state or reference conditions’ as defined above (OSPAR 2011b).

Biodiversity component

Any biotic group as part of the marine ecosystem and the biodiversity pool of an area. A list of standardised higher taxonomic groups, spanning all size classes and trophic levels, is required for biodiversity assessments under the MSFD and to monitor state and departure or progress towards GES. The DEVOTES list includes 11 biodiversity components: microbes, phytoplankton, zooplankton, angiosperms, macroalgae, benthic invertebrates, fish, cephalopods, marine mammals, birds and reptiles. The term biological component (mentioned in Article 3: ‘diverse biological components function in balance’) is synonymous with biodiversity component.

Biological Diversity (biodiversity)

The variability among living organisms from all sources including inter alia, [terrestrial], marine [and other aquatic ecosystems] and the ecological complexes of which they are part; cf. ‘includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems’ (Article 2, Convention on Biological Diversity 1992:

Biological information

Description of the biological communities including species composition, abundance, biomass and annual/seasonal variability, age/size structure of the populations, natural and actual range and status of species, required under MSFD for each biodiversity component is listed in Annex III, Table 1 under Biological features.


A distinctive combination of plants and animals in a fully developed or climax community … characterised by a uniform life form of vegetation … [and including] developmental stages (Smith 1992), extended to refer to the combination expected under particular ecohydrodynamic conditions.


A biotope is defined as the combination of an abiotic habitat and its associated community of species. With the abiotic habitat being the physical environment according to geographical location, physiographic features and chemical environment. Community is then the associated, distinctive, assemblage of species, described as ‘a group of organisms occurring in a particular environment, presumably interacting with each other and with the environment, and identifiable by means of ecological survey from other groups’. The determination of a biotope is therefore subjective being dependant on scale of analysis, survey methodology, survey effort, methodology for classifying the abiotic environment and methodology for determining the make up of the biological community.


CEN standards

The European Committee for Standardisation (CEN, Comité Européen de Normalisation; aims to develop, maintain and distribute sets of standards and specifications for methods of production or analysis. Once adopted by CEN these are then adopted by the national standard institute of each Member State (e.g. the UK BSI British Standards Institute). Relevant CEN standards are mentioned in annexes to EU Directives as being mandatory for use in implementing the Directive. Current standards in preparation include those for assessing the hydromorphological conditions of transitional and coastal waters. As an example of an adopted standard: BS EN ISO 5667-19:2004. Water quality – Part 19: Guidance on sampling in marine sediments. 26pp.


In the context of the MSFD, characteristics are the different features of marine waters that should be considered for the assessment. There are four groups of characteristics: physical and chemical features, habitat types, biological features, other features (e.g. sediment contamination or health issues), listed in Annex III, Table 1 of the Directive. In a more general context, characteristics include ecosystem features.


An assemblage of species (i.e. a group of different species that occur together at a given location), between which there is considered be a degree of interdependance, and so constitute an organised system; through which energy, nutrients, and water are cycled (MESH 2008). When a community is thought to be associated with a particular habitat type, the two components together are termed a biotope.


The MSFD defines criteria as ‘criteria means distinctive technical features that are closely linked to qualitative descriptors’. The eleven descriptors for describing GES have been further developed through the identification of 29 criteria in Part B of the annex to the September 2010 Commission Decision document. For instance Descriptor 1 on ‘Biological diversity’ consists of seven criteria further divided into 14 indicators. To avoid confusion between the use of the term ‘criteria’ in this specific context and its use in other respects (such as the criteria used to guide indicator selection), it is recommended that these specific criteria be referred to as ‘GES criteria’. In this context, ‘GES criteria’ refer to particular aspects of biodiversity (just considering Descriptor 1 for the purposes of this document), that require their status to be assessed, through the application of appropriate indicators, to determine whether each aspect meets good environmental status or not. Thus the population size of a particular species or functional group of species is a criterion by which to judge whether that aspect of biodiversity in a particular region meets good environmental status or not. Similarly, the habitat extent is a criterion to judge whether the habitat in a specified region meets GES or not (OSPAR 2011b).

Cumulative effects

Single activities can have multiple pressures and the marine ecosystem usually supports multiple activities. Consequently multiple pressures will often affect ecosystem components. The multiple pressures will rarely be equal and will lead to cumulative (the sum total of the effects) and in-combination effects and such combinations may be synergistic, in which the sum of the effects is increased, or antagonistic, in which effects may cancel each other.



Acronym for Driver (societal requirements)-Pressure-State change (on natural features)-Impact (on human features)-Response (by society) paradigm, originally by Luiten (1999), after Atkins et al. (2011), Smith et al. (2014a) reviewed the framework, its application in research projects and publications dealing with coastal and marine habitats and listed all DPSIR-derivatives (e.g. BPSIR, DPCER, DPSEA, EBM-DPSER, DPSWR), the most recent one being the DAPSI(W)R by Elliot (2014) that includes Activities and the Impact on human welfare.

Driver or Driving force

Smith et al. 2014a have defined Drivers at the highest level, as the ‘Driving Forces’ i.e. the overaching economic and social policies of governments, and economic and social goals of those involved in industry. At a mid-level they may be considered to be Sectors in industry (e.g. recreation/tourism,) and at a lower level, specific Activities (e.g. diving, golfing, boating). However as the Sectors could be classed as either Drivers or Activities (and activities can be aggregated as required) it is best to define Driver as a main demand by society (e.g. for food, transport, culture etc), which requires a set of Activities. A detailed description of the relevant activities at the scale of the assessments is necessary as a starting point of recording potential pressures in the system assessed.



The system composed of the physical-chemical-biological processes active within a space-time unit of any magnitude, i.e. the biotic community plus its abiotic environment’ (Lindeman 1942, p. 400). The collection of all living (biotic; organisms) and non-living (abiotic; environment) components in a particular area where the organisms live in the environment and are engaged in relationships (flows of matter and energy) with other components of the ecosystem.

Ecosystem benefits/goods

This definition refers to a range of human welfare benefits derived from the flow of final services provided by an ecosystem (i.e. the outcomes from the functioning of ecosystems), which have been generically labelled ‘goods’ (Turner et al. 2014; Balmford et al. 2011; Bateman et al. 2011; UK NEA 2011). Note that depending on the situation ecosystem goods coincide with final ecosystem services. The concept of ‘ecosystem goods and services’ is synonymous of ‘ecosystem services’ in The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) definition of ecosystem services ( Atkins et al. (2011) noted that the term ‘ecosystem benefits’ confounds the two different terms ‘ecosystem services’ and ‘societal benefits’.

Ecosystem component

The term ecosystem component (‘measures that influence the degree of perturbation of an ecosystem component’ and ‘tools which guide human activities to restore damaged components of marine ecosystems’) includes both biota and habitats as parts of the ecosystem.

Ecosystem function(ing)

This relates to rate processes at the ecosystem level, cf. ecosystem structure which is the magnitude of ecosystem components at one time (see ‘Structure and function’ entry); all levels of biological organisation from the cell to the ecosystem have structural and functional properties whereas ecosystem functioning only relates to the highest level.

Ecosystem properties

Various pools and fluxes, includes both sizes of compartments (e.g. pools of materials such as carbon or organic matter) and rates of processes (e.g. fluxes of materials and energy among compartments) (Hooper et al. 2005).

Ecosystem services

Are properties of ecosystems that either directly or indirectly benefit human endeavors, such as maintaining hydrological cycles, regulating climate, cleansing air and water, maintaining atmospheric composition, pollination, soil genesis, and storing and cycling of nutrients (Christensen et al. 1996, Daily 1997). Ecosystem services can be produced by the ecosystem but then complementary assets or human capital (energy, time, money, skills) are required to obtain societal benefits. From an economic perspective (e.g. economic valuation) Fisher and Turner (2008) define ecosystem services as the aspects of ecosystems utilised (actively or passively) to produce human wellbeing; the key feature of this definition (Fisher et al. 2009) is the separation of ecosystem processes and functioning (intermediate services), which influence human well-being indirectly, and ecosystem outcomes (final services), which contribute directly to human well-being, with the final services yielding welfare (societal) benefits. Similarly (e.g. accounting), Boyd & Banzhaf (2007) define final ecosystem services as components of nature, directly enjoyed, consumed, or used to yield human well-being.
Endogenic pressure A pressure generated by an activity within the system (waterbody, region, etc.) being managed and in which management can and should address both the causes and consequences of the pressure (e.g. fishing or offshore windfarms within a sea area) (Elliott 2011).

Environmental status

The overall state of the environment in marine waters, taking into account the structure, function and processes of the constituent marine ecosystems together with natural physiographic, geographic, biological, geological and climatic factors, as well as physical, acoustic and chemical conditions, including those resulting from human activities inside or outside the area concerned (Directive 2008/56/EC).

Environmental target

A qualitative or quantitative statement on the desired condition of the different components of, and pressures and impacts on, marine waters in respect of each marine region or subregion. Environmental targets are established in accordance with the MSFD Article 10 (Directive 2008/56/EC).

Exogenic pressure

A pressure generated from outside the system (waterbody, region, etc) being managed and in which the management can only address the consequences of the pressure rather than the causes (e.g. climate change effects globally or nutrient inputs to the catchment of a coastal area being managed) (Elliott 2011).


Food webs

Networks of feeding interactions between consumers and their food. The species composition of food webs varies according to habitat and region, but the principles of energy transfer from sunlight and plants through successive trophic levels are the same. This descriptor addresses the functional aspects of marine food webs, especially the rates of energy transfer within the system and levels of productivity in key components (Rodgers et al. 2010). A series of interacting (intersecting and overlapping) food chains.

Functional group

An ecologically relevant set of species. Each functional group represents a predominant ecological role (e.g. burrowing megafauna, offshore surface-feeding birds, and demersal fish) within the species group or even between phyla (e.g. benthic scavengers).


GES boundary

The boundary between the good and less than good environmental status. Typically, the boundary is a point on the scale of an assessment system (scientific index). When the (possibly numerical) value resulting from the assessment is higher than the GES boundary value, the good environmental status is achieved. The GES boundary can be set on the level of indicators, but also on higher levels within the assessment system (criteria, descriptors).

Good Environmental Status, GES

Good Environmental Status as defined in Article 3 (5) of the MSFD, which includes the requirement that ‘the structure, functions and processes of the constituent marine ecosystems … allow those ecosystems to function fully and to maintain their resilience to human-induced environmental change’. The environmental status of marine waters where these provide ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive within their intrinsic conditions, and the use of the marine environment is at a level that is sustainable, thus safeguarding the potential for uses and activities by current and future generations, i.e.: (a) the structure, functions and processes of the constituent marine ecosystems, together with the associated physiographic, geographic, geological and climatic factors, allow those ecosystems to function fully and to maintain their resilience to human-induced environmental change. Marine species and habitats are protected, human-induced decline of biodiversity is prevented and diverse biological components function in balance; (b) hydro-morphological, physical and chemical properties of the eco-systems, including those properties which result from human activities in the area concerned, support the ecosystems as described above. Anthropogenic inputs of substances and energy, including noise, into the marine environment do not cause pollution effects. GES shall be determined at the level of the marine region or subregion as referred to in Article 4, on the basis of the qualitative descriptors in Annex I. Adaptive management on the basis of the ecosystem approach shall be applied with the aim of attaining GES (Directive 2008/56/EC). In this sense Borja et al. (2013) has proposed the following operational definiton of GES:
‘GES is achieved when physico-chemical (including contaminants, litter and noise) and hydrographical conditions are maintained at a level where the structuring components of the ecosystem are present and functioning, enabling the system to be resistant (ability to withstand stress) and resilient (ability to recover after a stressor) to harmful effects of human pressures/activities/impacts, where they maintain and provide the ecosystem services that deliver societal benefits in a sustainable way (i.e. that pressures associated with uses cumulatively do not hinder the ecosystem components in order to retain their natural diversity, productivity and dynamic ecological processes, and where recovery is rapid and sustained if a use ceases)’.



The term habitat has several meanings in common usage linked to the biotic and abiotic environment. It is often used in reference to the combination of specific abiotic and biotic environmental conditions, however that definition is covered by the term ‘biotope’ so habitat should not be used in that sense. For the purposes of the MSFD a habitat must characterise a significant element of a well-defined and coherent environmental niche space so that adequate measures can be taken to monitor species, populations and biological communities for the purposes of reaching GES. In this case abiotic (scenopoetic, sensu Soberón 2007) variables such as physiographic features, seabed geology, oceanography and chemical environment, provide a useful framework to identify these habitats spatially. Habitat type The categorical, rather than spatial, aggregation of habitats having equivalent structure and function. Habitat types vary between classifications systems (EUNIS, other international, national or regional systems) and applications for specific assessment purposes (e.g. Habitats Directive).


Any cause of potential adverse environmental effects (damage, harm) and these may be derived from natural or anthropogenic events and factors.



Consequences of changes in physical, biological and chemical conditions of the ecosystem (state change of an ecosystem) due to pressures. They are thus the consequences for the ecosystem state in terms of changes in some ecosystem features. However, impacts can be environmental (i.e. on ecosystems such as altered biodiversity) or they can be on the human system (e.g. reduced resource availability, human health, economy) (Sekovski et al. 2012). In the strict (DPSIR) definition impacts are only those parameters that directly reflect changes in environmental use functions by humans (Gabrielsen & Bosch 2003), i.e. the effect of the changed ecosystem on human societies (Tett et al. 2013). Another way of putting this: Impacts are the discrete measured changes in social benefit values linked to environmental condition (e.g. cost of marine-vectored disease, loss of recreational bathing beach value, losses to commercial fishing value due contaminant burdens) (Bowen & Riley 2003). In DPSIR the consequences of ecosystem state change on services to human societies.

Indicator or Index

An ‘indicator’ or ‘index’ is an observed value representative of a phenomenon of study, i.e. it simplifies information that can help to reveal complex phenomena (Gabrielsen & Bosch 2003). Indicators quantify and synthesise information, often by aggregating different and multiple data. In practice, an indicator or index represents the simple or aggregated measurement, or calculated derivative of several different ‘parameters’. In ecology, indices are frequently used to inform on environmental variety in any given area or point in time. The degree of variety can be assessed on various levels, e.g. at the level of species, genes or habitats. For example, the Shannon-Wiener Index, representing species diversity, is calculated using the following ‘parameters’: species abundance for all species in any given sample and total of all individuals included in the sample. Throughout this report we use ‘Indicator’ as defined here, except in the cases where ‘indicator’ is explicitely referring to the legal texts (see ‘Indicator sensu MSFD’ and ‘Indicator sensu Decision’).

Indicator sensu Decision 2010/477/EU

(Part A, paragraph 1) indicators are referred to as being the operationalisation of the criteria for assessing if GES is achieved in relation to the 11 descriptors of the MSFD. Such criteria and related indicators are presented in Part B of the Decision.

Indicator sensu MSFD (Directive 2008/56/2008)

According to Art. 10 (Establishment of environmental targets), indicators associated to environmental targets are to be established to reflect progress in achieving good environmental status. It is not clear (nor in Annex IV) whether such indicators would correspond to the ones later specified sensu Commission Decision 2010/477/EU or are instead pressure indicators taking into account Annex III list of pressures (Art. 10 (1)).

Invasive alien species

An alien species whose introduction or spread has been found, through risk assessment, to threaten biodiversity and ecosystem services, and that may also have a negative impact on human health or the economy.


Keystone species

A species that has a disproportionately large effect on its ‘environment’ relative to its abundance (or biomass, or productivity). Keystone species can have their ‘keystoneness’ in different aspects: keystone predator, keystone habitat-forming species, keystone engineer, keystone biodiversity promoter, keystone processes (e.g. bioturbation). A review and a European list of potential keystone species and groups are given by Smith et al. (2014b) along with inclusion criteria and associated issues (context dependency, functional redundancy, predator/prey equivalence, species distributions, spatial and temporal scale) as a keystone species may be keystone in one geographical area or habitat and not in another.


Marine landscape (Baltic) (BALANCE derived)

Collection of process-related marine habitats that are interlinked and form a higher-level categorisation on a larger geographical scale, i.e. coastal physiographic marine features such as fjords and estuaries, seabed features such as the seabed of open sea areas and pelagic marine features such as mixed water bodies or frontal systems. (Sometimes also referred to as ‘Seascapes’).

Methodological standards

Methodological standards per se are not defined in the MSFD or in the Decision, nor are methodological standards clearly specified for any of the descriptors in the Decision. The aim of the requirement for the use of methodological standards is however related to the need for comparability of approaches in determining GES and environmental goals within and among marine regions. Piha & Zampoukas (2011) define methodological standards in general terms as all methods developed and agreed in the framework of European or international conventions. Once agreed, CEN Standards (see ‘CEN Standards’ entry above) will be adopted as methodological standards for use in implementing the Directive as with other Directives.


An individual, quantifiable parameter within a scientific index. For example, abundance or biomass of species are both metrics in the context of an index that uses them to indicate some environmental feature. Another example could be water temperature.


Non-indigenous species

(See ‘Invasive alien species’ entry). The term ‘invasive alien species’ should replace the MSFD ‘non-indigenous species’ in the new legal text to be in accordance with the Regulation adopted by the European Council on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species (PE-CONS 70/14, 13266/14 ADD 1).



See ‘Metric’

Predominant habitat type

The Directive lists 24 predominant habitat types (Table 1 of Annex III) consisting of 18 benthic, 5 pelagic and 1 ice-associated habitats. These must be used when reporting but are not considered to be exhaustive and must be composed of more ecologically meaningful subdivisions as necessary.


The mechanism (physical, chemical or biological) through which a human activity has a direct or indirect adverse effect on any part of the ecosystem, e.g. physical disturbance to the seabed (OSPAR 2011a, Robinson et al. 2008). (1) a link in the DPSIR chain (Luiten 1999), referring to external (anthropogenic) pressure on an ecosystem; (2) the human-altered influxes, outflows and disturbances acting on an ecosystem; in either case, dimensionally undefined. The pressure transports (some of the) outcome of a (DPSIR) driver from the human system to the natural ecosystem (environmental space) in the form of matter (e.g. waste, nutrients) or energy (e.g. noise, electricity). This can either be input to the natural system or extraction from it. A pressure emanates from an activity in the environment.

Pressure Descriptor

A descriptor characterised by consisting only of GES criteria and indicators that reflect pressures. For example, Descriptor 11 (Introduction of energy) is a pressure descriptor because it reflects the magnitude of pressure onto the ecosystem from energy. The complement of a pressure descriptor is a state descriptor. (See ‘State descriptor’)

Pressure footprint

The impact of each pressure in the marine environment can be assessed according to its extent (spatial dimension), duration (temporal dimension) and frequency of occurrence.Taken together these give the footprint of the pressure which therefore needs to be addressed using a programme of measures. Resilience (recovery potential) of the component and the persistence of the pressure (beyond cessation of the activity causing it) might also play a role in determing the size of the pressure effect (Knights et al. 2011).

Pressure indicator

Describes developments in release of substances (emissions), physical and biological agents, the use of resources and the use of area by human activities. The pressures exerted by society are transported and transformed in a variety of natural processes to manifest themselves in changes in environmental conditions. Examples of pressure indicators are CO2- emissions per sector, the use of rock, gravel and sand for construction and the amount of land/sea-floor used for constructions (Gabrielsen & Bosch 2003).

Programme of measures

Acording with Article 13 (MSFD), Member States have to identify the measures (actions by society which may include merely stopping doing something) which need to be taken in order to achieve or maintain good environmental status in their marine waters. Those measures shall be devised on the basis of the initial assessment (Article 8), by reference to the environmental targets (Article 10) and taking into consideration the types of measures listed in Annex VI (i.e. input and output controls, spatial and temporal distribution controls, management coordination measures, measures to improve the traceability of marine pollution, economic incentives, mitigation and remediation tools and communication, stakeholder involvment and raising public awareness). Member States shall integrate the measures into a programme of measures.


Reference point

Point on a scale defining reference state (see ‘Reference State’ entry).

Reference state

The value or range of values of state at which impacts from anthropogenic pressures are absent or negligible. Values used to define the reference state should be directly linked to the GES criteria used for assessment. They will vary in relation to prevailing physiographic and geographic conditions and may vary over time in relation to changing climatic conditions (OSPAR 2011b).

Region (marine)

A sea region which is identified under Article 4 (MSFD). Marine regions and their subregions are designated for the purpose of facilitating implementation of the MSFD directive and are determined taking into account hydrological, oceanographic and bio-geographic features. Member States can also designate subdivisions within marine regions and subregions (Directive 2008/56/EC).


Sea-floor integrity

Sea-floor‖ is interpreted as including both the physical and chemical parameters of seabed – bathymetry, roughness (rugosity), substratum type, oxygen supply etc; and biotic composition of the benthic community. ―Integrity‖ is interpreted as both covering spatial connectedness, so that the habitats are not unnaturally fragmented, and having the natural ecosystem processes functioning in characteristic ways. Areas of high integrity on both of these standards are resilient to perturbations, so human activities can cause some degree of perturbation without widespread and lasting harms to the ecosystems. ―Structure and functions of ecosystems‖ is a commonly used concept in ecology (see ‘Structure and function’ entry). ―Not adversely affected‖ is interpreted as meaning that impacts may be occurring, but all impacts are sustainable such that natural levels of diversity, productivity, and ecosystem processes are not degraded.

Shifting baselines

A shift in perception recognised by a group that observe some ecosystem property, taking something as being normal because they have no means of comparing to what was normal (e.g. a generation ago). An example is that each generation of fisheries scientists tends to accept as baseline the stock size and species composition that occurred at the beginning of their careers, and uses this to evaluate changes (Pauly 1995).


That objectives, indicators, indices, etc. should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bounded.

Socio-ecological system

A linked system of people and nature (Berkes & Folke 1998); a spatially-bounded region containing an ecosystem and a social system interacting with each other (Tett et al. 2013).

Special habitat type

The category of special habitat types is directed to those habitats listed under existing regulatory frameworks, such as EU legislation (the Habitats Directive and Birds Directive) or international conventions, as being of special scientific or biodiversity interest. Cochrane et al. 2010 recommends that a set of relevant ‘Listed’ (special) habitat types should be drawn up for each region/subregion, referring to the indicative list of policies.

Specifications (method)

A detailed description of how something should be done and made. An exact statement of the particular needs to be satisfied, or essential characteristics (e.g. in a method, process or work) to be met and delivered. Specifications are written usually in a manner that enables assessing the degree of conformance (from and

Standardised method

Is a methodological approach that allows the repeatability and comparability of any action at field (i.e. sampling), laboratory (i.e. experiment, analysis) or desk (i.e. calculation) ensuring the quality of the results in a research. (See ‘CEN Standards’ entry).

State (DPSIR)

The Driver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response framework, a derivation of the PSI framework first created by the OECD, originally had confusing explanations depending on whether it was used by the natural or social sciences. In the social sciences, the state refers to the characteristics of the natural system changed by a pressure whereas Impact refers to the impact on the human system. In contrast, the natural scientists used S as the state of the system and I as the impact on the natural and social system. Because of this confusion, S was eventually changed to mean state change (see ´State-change´ entry).

State descriptor

A descriptor characterised by consisting only of GES criteria and indicators that reflect state (in the DPSIR sense), i.e. a description of the features of an ecosystem. These features are outlined in the MSFD as ‘characteristics’ (see ‘Characteristics’ entry). For example, Descriptor 1 (Biological diversity) is a state descriptor because its criteria and indicators describe the features of biological diversity in terms of, for example, species abundance, habitat distribution or population size. The complement of a state descriptor is a pressure descriptor (see ‘Pressure descriptor’ entry).

State indicator

Gives a description of the quantity and quality of physical phenomena (such as temperature), biological phenomena (such as fish stocks) and chemical phenomena (such as CO2-concentrations) in a certain area (Gabrielsen & Bosch 2003).


Following the confusion in state under the DPSIR framework (see ‘State(DPSIR)’ entry) and in a bid to harmonise the use of the framework between the natural and social sciences, S in DPSIR is now taken to mean state change (in the natural system) whereas I is taken to mean Impact on the Human system (Atkins et al. 2011). To avoid confusion Cooper (2012) replaced I for Impact with W for Welfare and Elliot (2014) proposed using I (W) as Impact on Welfare.


An environmental change that decreases organismal fitness (Boyd & Hutchins 2012).

Structure and Function

In ecological terms, structure refers to the characteristics of any part of the system at any one time, for example the number of species, diversity, species composition, species distribution/range, abundance age/size structure, amount of chlorophyll, etc. In contrast, function and functioning refers to rate processes, i.e. the change in the structural component over time. For example, this includes population dynamics, productivity, species turnover, nutrient uptake, functional diversity, fecundity, survival, mortality, bioturbation, predator-prey processes, energy flows, etc. (See ‘Ecosystem function(ning)’ entry)

Sub-division (marine)

See ‘Region’.

Subregion (marine)

See ‘Region’.



Quantitative point on scale determining when an action is triggered.



The Oxford dictionary (1990) defines well-being as the state of being well, healthy, contented. Well-being has to do with both economic resources, such as income, and with non-economic aspects of peoples’ lives (what they do and what they can do, how they feel, and the natural environment they live in), including sustainability issues (UNU-IHDP and UNEP 2012; Stiglitz et al. 2009). The Stiglitz et al. (2009) report suggests that the multidimensional characteristic of well-being requires a multi dimensional definition (the following key dimensions, as recommended by the Commission, should be considered simultaneously): i. Material living standards (income, consumption and wealth); ii. Health; iii. Education; iv. Personal activities including work; v. Political voice and governance; vi. Social connections and relationships; vii. Environment (present and future conditions); viii. Insecurity, of an economic as well as a physical nature.