Skip to main content

New developments in the way biodiversity is assessed


OSPAR is committed to protecting and conserving ecosystems and biodiversity through the management of human activities, guided by an ecosystem-based approach to management.

The development of internationally coordinated biodiversity indicators is a relatively new field for OSPAR. In the Quality Status Report 2010, OSPAR assessed ten ecological quality objectives developed for the North Sea which focused mainly on the interactions between mobile species and human pressures. However, they lacked agreed tools to make a fuller assessment of the health of the key structural and functional building blocks of the ecosystem: the habitats of the seafloor and the water column, their biological communities and the foodweb processes that connect them.

Since 2010, OSPAR scientists and policymakers have developed indicators that can help to assess pelagic and benthic habitats and their communities, and foodwebs. These indicators are assessed for the first time in the Intermediate Assessment 2017 (IA 2017), moving OSPAR towards a more robust regional-scale assessment of ecosystem status. These indicators identify significant changes occurring in plankton communities, which inhabit the water column and are the base of the marine foodweb and have the potential to track food-web structure and function in the ecosystem.

Progress has been significantly boosted through the European Commission’s funding of the EcApRHA (Applying an Ecosystem Approach to (sub) Regional Habitat Assessment) project which has fed into the assessments presented in IA 2017. EcApRHA created opportunities for policy and science representatives to interact and so ensure that project results are fit for OSPAR purposes.

EcApRHA has delivered an action plan to address knowledge gaps which can be built into further indicator development across the OSPAR Maritime Area and so support further indicator development potential. As OSPAR continues to develop its approaches and assessment methods with each additional assessment cycle, understanding of natural and human-induced change in the complex and dynamic marine environment will further improve.


OSPAR’s Objective

OSPAR’s strategic objective with respect to biodiversity and ecosystems is to halt and prevent by 2020 further loss of biodiversity in the OSPAR Maritime Area, to protect and conserve ecosystems and to restore, where practicable, marine areas which have been adversely affected.


Changes in Phytoplankton and Zooplankton Communities

Changes in Phytoplankton Biomass and Zooplankton Abundance

Condition of Benthic Communities: Subtidal Habitats of the Southern North Sea

Pilot Assessment of Changes in Plankton Diversity

Pilot Assessment of Production of Phytoplankton

Size Composition in Fish Communities

Changes in Average Trophic Level of Marine Predators

Condition of Benthic Habitat Communities: the Common Conceptual Approach Condition of Benthic Habitat Communities: Assessment of Coastal Habitats in Relation to Nutrient and / or Organic Enrichment

Extent of Physical Damage to Predominant and Special Habitats

Marine Strategy Framework Directive Descriptors

D1: Biological Diversity

D4: Marine Foodwebs

D5: Eutrophication

D6: Seafloor Integrity