Different signals of distress from the North Sea ecosystems started a discussion on the protection of the ecosystem at the third North Sea Ministers Conference in 1990. This was followed by a number of workshops on ecological indicators under the auspices of the North Sea Task Force and the Oslo and Paris Commissions (OSPAR). In 1997 the member countries around the North Sea agreed to develop and apply an ecosystem's approach in the management programs for both the North Sea fisheries and the marine environment. Following this agreement the identification of the ecological qualities objectives for the North Sea ecosystem started. Further work in this direction has lead to the setting up of various national projects geared towards creating a better understanding of the North Sea ecosystem.
In the Netherlands, two departments (Water management and Nature and fisheries management) from the Ministry of Transport, Public works and Water Management (V&W) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries Management (LNV) agreed to integrate their policies for the management of the Netherlands section of the North Sea. The results from these projects (started in 1996) should enable the policy makers and managers to formulate policies that could lead to the creation of a balance between the effects of human activities and the preservation of the natural qualities of the North Sea ecosystem.
One of the projects is strictly designed to develop ecological indicators for the Dutch part of the North Sea. These indicators are based on various monitoring data and related in one way or another with human activities. In this way it is possible to evaluate the effects of human impacts on the ecosystem. Long-term changes in the ecological performance of the ecosystem can be elucidated by the use of the ecological indicators. Thereby making it possible for the policy makers and the managers of the NCP to evaluate the effects of their policies and management recommendations on the quality of the ecosystem.
This paper describes the process and the steps taken by the authorities in the countries around the North Sea to develop a set of ecological indicators for the management of the North Sea ecosystem. Focus will be made on the efforts made in the Netherlands to develop indicators that did provide the basis for the development of Water and Nature conservation policies and new management strategies for maintaining the sustainable use of the Dutch section of the North Sea.