How to define Good Environmental Status and how to aggregate multiple information when assessing the status?

by A. Borja

The European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires EU Member States to achieve Good Environmental Status (GEnS) of their seas by 2020. Also, the environmental status assessment of marine ecosystems is useful for communicating key messages to policymakers or the society, as it reduces the complex information of the multiple ecosystem and biodiversity components, and their important spatial and temporal variability, into manageable units. However, very few studies have investigated in these issues.

One of the important objectives of DEVOTES is to propose and demonstrate the pros and cons of innovative monitoring systems capable of efficiently and effectively providing data for many biodiversity parameters, to be used as indicators of GEnS, and, finally, for integration into a unique and holistic assessment. This integration addresses the question of what GEnS entails especially with regard to the level at which targets are set (descriptors, criteria, indicators), to scales for assessments (regional, sub-divisions, site-specific), and to difficulties in putting into practice the GEnS concept. Hence, DEVOTES has recently produced a Deliverable (D6.2) on the potential definition of GEnS, from an operational point of view.

Therefore, the operational GEnS definition that DEVOTES project proposes is: “GEnS 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 cases)’’. newsletter-D62.2

The options for determining when GEnS has been met, acknowledge the data and information needs for each option, and a combination of existing quantitative targets and expert judgement is recommended. However, to develop a holistic assessment tool, the approaches for aggregating and integrating assessments, currently available for marine status assessment in Europe and other regions of the world, need to be reviewed, from ecological and management perspectives, highlighting the advantages and shortcomings of the different alternatives. In this deliverable we have done this task, including some guidance on the steps towards defining rules for aggregation and integration of information at multiple levels of ecosystem organization and some recommendations on when using specific rules in the assessment have also been provided.

The Deliverable concludes that the MSFD implementation needs to be less complex in its implementation than shown for other similar directives (e.g. Water Framework Directive), based largely on existing data and centred on the activities of the Regional Seas Conventions. Moreover, any integration principle used should be ecologically-relevant, transparent and well documented, in order to make it comparable across different geographic regions.

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