Marine nature conservation framework


A key objective of the Pilot project was to test the Regional Seas approach and, in particular, the draft framework for marine nature conservation (Laffoley et al., 2000). The conclusion from the work of the Pilot is that such a framework is essential to assist in the development of marine policy at the national level and to support the delivery of international obligations. The draft framework was found to be essentially sound but that refinement is needed to the method of operation of its principal elements. This refinement is required both to enable the framework to be implemented in practice and also to set it within the wider context of sustainable development.

Refined marine nature conservation framework
Taking account of the findings of the Pilot project, the following refined marine nature conservation framework is proposed.
The Wider Sea
The Wider Sea includes all seabed and overlying waters under UK jurisdiction, together with those of adjacent waters. The main operational considerations are to:
  1. ensure that international policy and legislation supports, and does not frustrate, achievement of the strategic goals set for the marine environment;
  2. ensure that financial incentives applied to human activities taking place in, or materially affecting, the marine environment support, and do not run counter to, achievement of the strategic goals set for the marine environment;
  3. ensure that human activity is regulated effectively at the national level to achieve the maintenance, or restoration, of good ecological conditions, and the conservation and sustainable use of the marine environment. This system of regulation should include both appropriate legislation and effective enforcement measures;
  4. develop a system of co-ordinated marine environmental monitoring, together with the monitoring of human activities, within national waters and, by agreement with countries, also the adjacent waters of neighbouring countries.


The Regional Sea
The Regional Sea is an ecologically-meaningful subdivision of the Wider Sea, and is a medium-scale marine ecosystem. Its boundaries will be determined initially having regard to factors of coastal geography, water temperature, depth and currents, but will be adjusted to reflect the use made of the sea by local communities and to accommodate the practicalities of environmental management. The main operational considerations are that the Regional Sea:
  1. provides an appropriate and necessary context for the assessment of marine biological resources, and the physical and chemical processes that these depend upon;
  2. provides an appropriate and necessary context for the assessment of human economic and social dependency upon the Regional Sea, and the sea's contribution to regional prosperity and quality of life;
  3. provides an appropriate and necessary context for the involvement of international and national stakeholders and local communities in determining the use made of marine resources at the regional level;
  4. provides an appropriate and necessary level at which strategic planning and spatial planning will take place in the marine environment. Such strategic and spatial planning should include zoning of human activities so as to avoid damage or disturbance to sensitive areas; measures to ensure the maintenance or improvement of water quality conditions; and measures aimed at maintaining the physical and biological processes that support marine ecosystems, including the maintenance of their trophic structure;
  5. provides the level at which ecologically-coherent networks of marine protected areas are identified.


Marine Landscapes
Marine landscapes are small-scale ecosystems or medium-scale marine habitats. In continental shelf waters of 300m or less, they comprise three basic types, namely i) coastal (physiographic) types, where the seabed and overlying water are closely interlinked; ii) seabed types, where the seabed is somewhat independent of the overlying water except at the substrate/water interface; and iii) water column types, which occur in open water areas above the substrate/water interface. Further investigation is needed to determine whether, in water areas significantly deeper than 300m, the water column types should be further defined in terms of depth. The main operational considerations are that marine landscapes:
  1. provide the broader environmental context for spatial planning, and human activity regulation, across the whole of the Regional Sea and at the local level;
  2. provide the broad typology of habitat types from which representative examples can be identified to contribute to an ecologically-coherent network of marine protected areas.


Nationally-important marine areas
In continental shelf waters of 300m or less, nationally-important areas comprise medium to small areas of the seabed together with the overlying water and water surface. They consist of four main types, namely: i) representative examples of the main marine landscape types; ii) areas of exceptional habitat or species biodiversity; iii) important areas for aggregations of mobile species (e.g. important spawning, nursery, calving, feeding or resting areas, and migration bottlenecks); iv) nationally-important areas for geology or geomorphology. Further investigation is needed to determine whether, in sea areas of considerably greater depth than 300m, a distinction should be made, when determining the boundaries of nationally-important areas, between the seabed and the overlying water or water surface. The main operational considerations are that:
  1. areas are selected on the basis of national criteria and form an ecologically-coherent network for the Regional Sea;
  2. areas within the network are selected so as to provide ecological or geomorphological support to the other areas, or to adjacent areas of seabed or water;
  3. regulation of human activity in the areas is proportionate and relevant so as to enable the areas to make their individual and collective contributions to achieving the strategic goals and objectives for marine nature conservation.


Nationally-important marine features
Nationally-important features are marine landscapes, habitats or features which have met national criteria in relation to one or more of: proportional importance in a north-east Atlantic or global context; rarity; decline; threat of significant decline. The main operational considerations are that:
  1. features whose distribution is clustered and centred on a small number of distinct localities, or which are aggregated in predictable localities for at least part of the year, will be conserved primarily through the nationally-important areas network;
  2. species which are mobile, occurring as individuals or in small or even large groups, and which are vulnerable to capture fisheries, should be conserved by special measures regulating such capture;
  3. species which are vulnerable to disturbance resulting from human induced noise, vibration or movement, should be conserved by the use of codes or regulations relating to those impacts;
  4. habitats and species requiring the maintenance or improvement of water quality conditions, or the avoidance of pollution;
  5. where specific local or national action is needed, Action Plans for individual features, or groups of similar features, should be prepared and implemented.

Conservation objectives will need to be set at the levels of the Regional Sea and nationally-important areas. They may also be needed at other levels within the framework where this is found appropriate. The marine nature conservation framework will contribute to spatial planning for the Regional Sea by providing environmental information necessary to guide the regulation of human activities and support the strategic goals for the sustainable development of the marine environment.