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The dynamics of the marine environment versus the rigid interpretation of nature conservation law
Rabaut, M.; Cliquet, A. (2011). The dynamics of the marine environment versus the rigid interpretation of nature conservation law, in: Riley, A.T. Advances in Environmental Research, Volume 3. Advances in Environmental Research (New York, N.Y. 2008), 3: pp. 191-210
In: Riley, A.T. (2011). Advances in Environmental Research, Volume 3. Advances in Environmental Research (New York, N.Y. 2008), 3. Nova Science Publishers: New York. ISBN 978-1-60876-168-5. 373 pp., more
In: Advances in Environmental Research (New York, N.Y. 2008). Nova Science Publishers: New York, NY . ISSN 2158-5717, more

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    VLIZ: Open Repository 261749 [ OMA ]

Keyword
    Marine

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Abstract
    Dynamics in the marine environment tend to be orders of magnitude higher than their terrestrial counterparts. The functioning of marine ecosystems depends on these high dynamics and takes therefore place at vast geographical scales. Furthermore, oceans and seas seem to be quite prone to be affected by global climate change. As marine ecosystems are threatened, conservation strategies are set out in international policy to face the large scale of the ecosystem. However, not only the scale is important to manage marine ecosystems, also ecosystem dynamics should have a prominent place in the strategies. Present chapter points out the danger of applying an (international) environmental law system in a rigid way, leading to a slow decision making process and the inflexibility of management programs. This rigid interpretation of international legislation is therefore expected to fail in its aim of implementing a sustainable use of the sea. The Belgian case is developed as an example, pointing out that international (EU) legislation is too rigidly interpreted and decelerates the implementation rate or may even provoke a reflex of doing as little as possible. During the policy process of MPA-designation, objection was given to the protection of particular tube worm reefs as the possibility exists that these reefs may develop towards other reef types when strong nature conservation measures are taken. Moreover, some parties feared a legal declassification because of doubts on how to interpret the definition on the reef habitat type, even though clear scientific evidence was available for the particular reef system occurring in the Belgian waters. The reluctance of protecting important reef structures is amongst others due to the fact that interpretation of nature conservation law is related to difficulties in adapting to natural developments that are not easy to predict or to model. So far, application of nature conservation law has been rather static. This is well illustrated in this chapter with the case study on the Belgian part of the North Sea. Arguments for the rigid interpretation were (1) the possibility of natural succession; (2) the fact that other definitions (not in Habitats Directive) should be taken into account; (3) the fact that a species is not listed as an example in the Interpretation Manual and (4) that there is a possible semantic misunderstanding of specific words. Nonetheless, in the case of the EU Habitats Directive, a more flexible approach is possible and needed. We therefore advocate a robust though flexible interpretation of environmental legislation in the marine environment, especially because a changing climate is altering the environment in an even more profound and more unpredictable way. We acknowledge this is a difficult exercise, as there is a risk of undermining the final goal of environmental legislation if increasing flexibility would be translated into looser protection.

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