OSPAR Ecological Quality Objectives: the utility of health indicators for the North Sea

ICES Journal of Marine Science, Nov 2008

Heslenfeld, Peter, Enserink, E. Lisette

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OSPAR Ecological Quality Objectives: the utility of health indicators for the North Sea

OSPAR Ecological Quality Objectives: the utility of health indicators for the North Sea. - ICES Journal of Marine Science OSPAR Ecological Quality Objectives: the utility of health indicators for the North Sea Peter Heslenfeld 0 E. Lisette Enserink 0 0 P. Heslenfeld: Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management , Rijkswaterstaat North Sea Directorate, PO Box 5807, 2280 HV Rijswijk , The Netherlands. E. L. Enserink: Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, Rijkswaterstaat Centre for Water Management Committed to the ecosystem approach to management, OSPAR has accumulated 15 years of experience in developing a conceptual framework for ecological indicators and objectives, and in applying the framework to the North Sea as a test case. These Ecological Quality Objectives (EcoQOs) have become a model for the implementation of the new European Marine Strategy Framework Directive. We describe the history of EcoQO development, its current status, and future needs. We also present our positive and negative experiences in developing the approach, and conclude that regional sea conventions and marine research institutes in Europe should join forces to accelerate the development of ecosystem indicators and objectives, using existing concepts. EcoQO; indicators; Marine Strategy Framework Directive; North Sea; OSPAR Introduction The ecosystem approach has been a guiding principle for the management of the North Sea since the 1990s. The OSPAR Commission has called for the development and implementation of this concept, particularly through its adoption of Annex V of the Protection and Conservation of the Ecosystems and Biological Diversity of the Maritime Area to the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Northeast Atlantic (OSPAR, 1998) , and the consecutive North Sea Ministerial Meetings, starting with the 1997 Intermediate Ministerial Meeting on the Integration of Fisheries and Environmental Issues (IMM, 1997) . The ecosystem approach has been defined as “the comprehensive integrated management of human activities based on the best available scientific knowledge about the ecosystem and its dynamics, in order to identify and take action on influences which are critical to the health of marine ecosystems, thereby achieving sustainable use of ecosystem goods and services and maintenance of ecosystem integrity” (JMM, 2003) . The application of the precautionary principle is central to the ecosystem approach. The ecosystem approach puts people, and how they use natural resources, at the centre of decision-making. However, applying the principles of the ecosystem approach is not straightforward; it requires operational tools. With this in mind, OSPAR started to develop an ecological quality (EcoQ) framework in 1992, in collaboration with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Ecological Quality Objectives (EcoQOs) are at the centre of this framework. They are being developed to link a policy for taking action to the indicators, which are obtained from monitoring and can denote whether an objective is being met or progress is being made. Thus, indicators are an integral part of the EcoQ framework (OSPAR, 2006) . In 2002, OSPAR accepted an invitation from the fifth North Sea Conference to develop a North Sea pilot project for EcoQOs (OSPAR, 2002) . The EcoQO Handbook (OSPAR, 2007) guides the implementation process, 2007– 2010. EcoQOs specify the desired state of an ecological component or mechanism and can take the form of agreed targets to be reached or limits that should not be breached. An EcoQO might be defined relative to a “reference level” rather than in absolute terms. Therefore, EcoQOs allow contracting parties to define the qualities desired for the marine environment, taking into account how they are affected by human activities. Eventually, new management measures to control human impacts may need to be developed or existing measures enforced. When necessary, gaps have to be addressed or improvements sought. Johnson (2008) describes the role and actions of OSPAR in relation to the development of the ecosystem approach. We focus on the development of EcoQOs for the North Sea and describe the history of its development, the present state-of-the-art, and our positive and negative experiences while elaborating this framework. The new European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires the development of a comprehensive set of ecological indicators and related objectives by 2012, to measure the progress in reaching the aim of good environmental status. We call for the active involvement of marine research institutes and ICES to accelerate progress. Definitions The OSPAR framework (NSC, 2002) defines EcoQ as “an overall expression of the structure and function of the marine ecosystem taking into account the biological community and natural physiographic, geographic, and climatic factors as well as physical and chemical conditions including those resulting from human activities”. An EcoQ element is defined as “an individual aspect of overall EcoQ”, and an EcoQO as “the desired level of an EcoQ”. The definition stipulates “such a level may be set in relation to a reference level”. A short history The current status of the EcoQO system within the marine environmental management arena may be better understood in light of its history, which reveals a steadily growing political interest but slow progress towards implementation (Figure 1). The OSPAR 1992 Joint Assessment and Monitoring Programme (JAMP) addressed the question of how ecosystem health can be assessed to determine the extent of human impact. This topic provided the basis for a series of OSPAR workshops held in 1992, 1993, and 1995, to develop a conceptual framework for defining EcoQOs and establishing criteria for selecting metrics or indicators that relate to ecosystem properties and human use. The 1997 Intermediate Ministerial Meeting requested that an ecosystem approach to the management of the North Sea be developed and implemented (IMM, 1997) . In the same year, progress on EcoQO development was reported to OSPAR, including proposals to use the North Sea as a test case and to ask ICES to develop methods for expressing EcoQ. However, it was not until Annex V of the OSPAR Convention had been adopted (1998) and had entered into force (2000) that OSPAR asked ICES for advice on this issue in its 2001 work programme (“to develop EcoQOs for benthic communities, fish communities, sea mammals, and seabirds”), as well as asking ICES to include the methodological development for further proposals in its longterm work programme. Three more OSPAR workshops were held between 1999 and 2004. The 1999 workshop agreed on the general concept underlying the framework and selected ten EcoQ elements for which EcoQOs would have to be developed for presentation at the fifth North Sea Conference in 2002. A first set of EcoQOs was presented to stakeholders at the 2001 workshop (mainly attended by policymakers and scientists, with only limited participation by user groups) and in the next year, North Sea ministers adopted the EcoQO framework and ten EcoQOs (NSC, 2002) . OSPAR and ICES were invited to cooperate on developing a comprehensive and consistent scheme of EcoQOs by 2005 and to report to the sixth North Sea Conference in 2006. The 2004 workshop merely reported on the progress made on the ten most advanced EcoQOs, but OSPAR’s report to that (last) North Sea Conference (OSPAR, 2006) passed almost unnoticed because the agenda was dedicated to fisheries and shipping. By the time this first set had advanced to a stage where it could be used in a test environment, the European Marine Strategy had developed into a Framework Directive (EC, 2005) . The publication of the MSFD in June 2008 (EU, 2008) has changed the scene from a relatively non-committal, learning-by-doing process (from a Member State’s perspective) to a potentially binding set of objectives laid down in a legal framework: EcoQOs have become examples of objectives and associated indicators to be developed further under the MSFD. There is both relief and fear among EU Member States. Relief because OSPAR has apparently developed a useful concept, and all the energy that went into its development has not been wasted. Moreover, contracting parties were given a fair opportunity to gain sufficient practical experience to fine-tune indicators and objectives according to their needs. There is fear because of uncertainty about the real-world performance of the EcoQOs and their practical and economic consequences. The focus of the discussions in OSPAR has changed from mere scientific feasibility to the consequences of implementation, particularly in terms of the costs of monitoring and subsequent management measures. Meanwhile, countries responsible for other OSPAR regions are showing an increasing interest in expanding or translating the North Sea framework to their region. Current state-of-the-art and future needs Fifteen years of development have delivered a limited set of EcoQOs, which are now being tested in practice by North Sea countries. Table 1 lists the EcoQ elements and EcoQOs that are currently being considered by OSPAR and highlights those that are part of the North Sea pilot project (OSPAR, 2007) . Although the name might suggest otherwise, not all EcoQOs address state and impact elements of a driving force – pressure – state – impact – response (DPSIR) system (EEA, 2001) . For instance, EcoQO 3.1 on oiled guillemots (Table 1) does a better job defining the level of oil pollution (pressure) than defining the impact on the guillemot populations. Further, EcoQOs do not relate to single human activities. For example, EcoQO 2.1 on seal populations may not be met because of virus infections, habitat changes, bycatches, or other factors. OSPAR will publish an evaluation of the performance of the test set in 2008, including consequences for monitoring, needs for harmonization, and additional management measures required. An evaluation of the entire EcoQ framework is planned in 2009 and will primarily address the framework’s power to assess the quality status of the North Sea. This is an important issue because the upcoming OSPAR Quality Status Report 2010 will be the very first that uses the EcoQOs to inform the overall assessment. This evaluation is also important for the implementation of the MSFD, which requires, by 2012, an operational definition of “good environmental status” as the main objective to be achieved in 2020 by taking appropriate management measures, as well as a breakdown into concrete objectives and indicators. So far, the generic, qualitative descriptors of good environmental status have only been addressed partly by the current set of EcoQOs. Therefore, OSPAR needs to EcoQ issue 1. Commercial fish species 2. Marine mammals 2.1. Seal population trends in the North Sea a. Harbour seal population size: taking into account natural population dynamics and trends, there should be no decline in harbour seal population size (as measured by numbers hauled out) of 10% as represented in a 5-year running mean or point estimates (separated by up to 5 years) within any of 11 subunits of the North Sea. These subunits are: Shetland; Orkney; North and East Scotland; Southeast Scotland; the Greater Wash/Scroby Sands; the Netherlands Delta area; the Wadden Sea; Heligoland; Limfjord; the Kattegat, the Skagerrak, and the Oslo fjord; the west coast of Norway south of 628N. b. Grey seal pup production: taking into account natural population dynamics and trends, there should be no decline in pup production of grey seals of 10% as represented in a 5-year running mean or point estimates (separated by up to 5 years), and in breeding sites, within any of nine subunits of the North Sea. These subunits are: Orkney; Fast Castle/Isle of May; the Farne Islands; Donna Nook; the French North Sea and Channel coasts; the Netherlands coast; the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea; Heligoland; Kjørholmane (Rogaland) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.2. Bycatch of harbour porpoises Annual bycatch levels should be reduced to below 1.7% of the best population estimate 6. Plankton communities 6.1. Supporting eutrophication EcoQOs 9.1.2 and 9.1.3 (see issue 9) Established elements and objectives are emboldened; those currently under development appear in regular font. aIn this context, “reference points” are those for spawning-stock biomass, but also including those for fishing mortality, if these have been agreed upon by the competent authority for fishery management. start filling the gaps as soon as possible, using the framework for biodiversity monitoring and assessment to identify the most important issues (cf. Johnson, 2008) . OSPAR has only just started to investigate the application of EcoQOs in other regions. This requires selection of the relevant issues, elements, and objectives, which may not be the same as for the North Sea. Personal experiences In OSPAR, progress is pursued through a system that delegates responsibilities to “lead countries”. A lead country may develop a particular issue according to its own views, reporting regularly to OSPAR. This system does not easily generate commitment from other contracting parties at the decision-making level. Norway and the Netherlands have led the general EcoQO development. Belgium, Germany, Portugal, the UK, and the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat have taken responsibility for developing one or more specific EcoQOs. Having been heavily involved in the development of the EcoQO framework, we have had both positive and negative experiences. Positive experiences High responsiveness to political requests: the ecosystem approach becomes the guiding principle for North Sea management EcoQO development has been accelerated by the North Sea Ministerial Conferences and the MSFD’s efforts at raising awareness of the urgent need for a suitable tool to implement the ecosystem approach. For almost a decade, EcoQO development had been considered a scientific playground for a few experts, who were unable to exhibit convincing results to the world of OSPAR. It was primarily growing political commitment to the ecosystem approach that turned the EcoQOs into a promising concept, thereby enabling OSPAR to demonstrate how they can be used in practice. Much knowledge available Unlike other marine regions, the North Sea has been studied relatively well, and long time-series of data have allowed the development of a variety of EcoQOs. It may be difficult for other regions to develop an equally comprehensive set that can fulfil the current requirements of quality and robustness. Quality control by ICES Although formal ICES advice on EcoQOs only commenced in 2001, informal contacts with ICES Working Groups have inspired early development of EcoQOs. In particular, the working groups on ecosystem effects of fishing, marine mammal population dynamics and habitats, seabird ecology, benthos ecology, marine chemistry, and phytoplankton ecology have provided valuable input. ICES contributed to the conceptual framework by developing criteria for a good EcoQO, by reviewing OSPAR products, and initiating studies for new EcoQOs (ICES, 2001, 2003, 2004) . In general, the advice has improved the scientific credibility of the framework, thereby facilitating commitment of the wider scientific community as well as other stakeholders. Tested in practice An EcoQO is developed according to a fixed protocol. The first step is to draft a background document, defining the objective, describing existing knowledge and monitoring information, and proposing a suitable indicator and reference levels. Next, a target (or limit) level is developed by scientists and adopted for testing by policy-makers. During an evaluation phase, the EcoQO is tested in practice and, if necessary, adjusted. Only after the test has been passed, might OSPAR decide to apply the EcoQO. Communication tools to inform stakeholders and politicians Most EcoQOs have been designed to explain the ecosystem approach to stakeholders and politicians in a relatively simple and attractive way. During meetings to inform stakeholders about progress, at both national and international levels, we learned that explaining ecological objectives is essential, yet difficult to accomplish. Negative experiences Slow start, scientific and operational difficulties EcoQO development has been a bottom – up process, started by a few dedicated scientists and guided only by the high-level strategic objectives of the OSPAR Convention. The scientific debate took many years, partly owing to the complexity inherent in marine indicators and partly to a lack of guiding principles. Progress has been further hampered by operational difficulties, such as a lack of harmonized monitoring data and limited capacity in North Sea countries to assist the process. The focus on eyecatching species has led to underrepresentation of ecosystem elements of equal functional importance. Many organizations involved The coordination of many biological monitoring programmes in the marine environment is still in its infancy, although European directives (Birds and Habitats Directives, Water Framework Directive, Marine Strategy Framework Directive) and other international agreements call for a rapid development of their integrated use. Investigations (OSPAR, 2008) demonstrated that biological monitoring is carried out by a wide range of institutions, and contracting parties are currently acknowledging the need for better coordination to develop more efficient and cost-effective programmes. No success in the short term Regardless of which framework is developed, any improvement of the marine environment in response to management measures, i.e. the political gains, may take decades, whereas investments in capacity and resources have to be made in the short term. Lack of commitment North Sea countries have hesitated to contribute to EcoQO development, because personnel and budgets for environmental monitoring and assessment are limited, and demands, especially those made by European directives, are high. The 2008 and 2009 evaluations will inform contracting parties on practical and financial consequences, providing a basis for informed decisionmaking, and it is to be hoped, increasing commitment. Opportunistic approach OSPAR followed a pragmatic approach, choosing indicators that were already monitored by most North Sea countries and, where possible, objectives that had already been accepted by OSPAR or otherwise agreed internationally (e.g. the European Common Fisheries Policy and the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas). Although this enhanced their acceptability to policy-makers, less attention was given to more basic criteria for selecting specific indicators or objectives. Concluding remarks The present set of EcoQOs does not permit a fully integrated assessment of the status of the marine environment. The MSFD requests a more extensive set of operational indicators and objectives that covers all generic descriptors of Good Environmental Status by 2012. These generic descriptors address relatively new topics such as underwater noise and non-indigenous species. Therefore, indicator development in Europe should be switched into high gear, focusing on the main human impacts and the most important ecosystem elements. Active involvement of marine research institutes and ICES is needed to build scientifically sound and coherent indicator sets. Existing frameworks, such as the EcoQOs of OSPAR, HELCOM, and other regional conventions, should be integrated where possible and adapted to fit this new directive. Using concepts and operational experience gained from these existing frameworks may save years of development. EC. 2005 . Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Framework for Community Action in the field of Marine Environmental Policy (Marine Strategy Directive) . Commission of the European Community Document , COM ( 2005 ) 505 . EEA. 2001 . Livestock and Environment Toolbox. Pressure-StateResponse Framework and Environmental Indicators. www.virtual centre .org/en/dec/toolbox/Refer/EnvIndi.htm. EU. 2008 . Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008, establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) . http://eur-lex.europa.eu/ LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L: 2008 : 164 : 0019 :0040:EN:PDF. ICES. 2001 . Report of the ICES Advisory Committee on Ecosystems , 2001 . ICES Cooperative Research Report , 249 . 75 pp. ICES. 2003 . Report of the ICES Advisory Committee on Ecosystems , 2003 . ICES Cooperative Research Report , 262 . 241 pp. ICES. 2004 . Report of the ICES Advisory Committee on Fishery Management and Advisory Committee on Ecosystems , 2004 . ICES Advice, 1 ( 2 ). IMM. 1997 . Statement of Conclusions from the Intermediate Ministerial Meeting on the Integration of Fisheries and Environmental Issues , Bergen, Norway, 13 - 14 March 1997 . www.seas-at-risk . org/n2_archive.php?page=9. JMM. 2003 . Record of the First Joint Ministerial Meeting of the Helsinki and OSPAR Commissions. Annex 5. Statement on the Ecosystem Approach to the Management of Human Activities , Bremen, Germany, 25 - 26 June 2003. www.ospar.org. Johnson , D. 2008 . Environmental indicators: their utility in meeting the OSPAR Convention's regulatory needs . ICES Journal of Marine Science , 65 : 1387 - 1391 . NSC. 2002. Bergen Declaration . Fifth International Conference on the Protection of the North Sea, Bergen, Norway , 20 - 21 March 2002 . OSPAR. 1998 . The Protection and Conservation of the Ecosystems and Biological Diversity of the Maritime Area . Reference Number 1998 - 15 .1. OSPAR. 2002 . Summary Record of the Meeting of the OSPAR Commission , Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 24 - 28 June 2002. www.ospar.org. OSPAR. 2006 . Report on North Sea pilot project on Ecological Quality Objectives. OSPAR Biodiversity Series 2006 /239. 126 pp. OSPAR. 2007 . EcoQO Handbook-Handbook for the Application of Ecological Quality Objectives in the North Sea, 1st edn . OSPAR Biodiversity Series 2007 /307. 39 pp. OSPAR. 2008 . Marine Biodiversity Monitoring and Assessment: activities to improve synergies between EU directives and international conventions . OSPAR Monitoring and Assessment Series , 2008 /357. 65 pp.


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Heslenfeld, Peter, Enserink, E. Lisette. OSPAR Ecological Quality Objectives: the utility of health indicators for the North Sea, ICES Journal of Marine Science, 2008, 1392-1397, DOI: 10.1093/icesjms/fsn159