ELectronic conference on MARine Biodiversity in Europe
The problemMarine biodiversity in Europe has been studied mostly at national scale and therefore is not well known at a European scale, especially not at the genetic and system level. Although a preliminary list of marine species in Europe exists (ERMS project), distributions of many marine species are hardly or incompletely known. When one wants to understand the existing biodiversity and how and why this biodiversity is changing, inventories, adequate indicators and knowledge of patterns and distributions are required. Such knowledge must be obtained at the characteristic scales, which for marine biodiversity are years to decades and hundreds to thousands of kilometres. Measurements at these large spatial and temporal scales are outside the scope of classical (national, regional or local) research projects and can only be achieved through European co-operation. Measurements over such long time periods require concertation, commitment, agreement on methodology etc. by the partners.
The e-conference will create an overview of the current state of marine biodiversity research in Europe, indicate bottlenecks for future development and give indications on the kind of information that marine biodiversity research can and should provide for the application of this knowledge in management and conservation of Europe's marine environment.
National programmes often have their own objectives and methodologies, and are not discussed with other countries. The outcome of this (and of FP5) research should be discussed in a European context, to broaden the scope and learn the lessons.
In the case of inventories of marine biodiversity a European co-operation is required because for many taxonomic groups there are only a few experts and no one country has all the expertise required. European countries and the EU have agreed through a series of Conventions to study and protect their biodiversity. Europe's natural but also its cultural history and present patrimonium are strongly linked to the coastal environment. The economic value of marine biodiversity is enormous. The understanding and assessment of marine biodiversity are vital for safeguarding the European inheritance. Understanding means a scientific discussion of sufficient width (involving the whole European scientific community) and depth (an outstanding discussion forum). Assessment means common methods and tools, agreement on future directions/questions/challenges to be addressed, identification of problems and hot spots and recognition of the most critical issues and potential hazards for the European marine environment.
The communication of scientists during the e-conference will provide the scientific basis for using biodiversity as reflecting the overall environmental status and thus offer the highest standards for the assessment of ecosystem changes of the European Seas and for the determination of the limits of the impacted zones. Biodiversity assessment is a valuable tool for CZM policies -both these tools are in accord with the spirit and the principle of the sustainable development and management of coastal zones, a priority field of action within the Fifth Environmental Action Programme.
The Rio convention emphasises that research on biodiversity at all levels of organisation (from gene to ecosystem) and on all scales (local to global) should be undertaken. The identification of appropriate scientific tools required for European biodiversity research is a question, which has to be addressed at a pan-European level. It combines the full range of the existing knowledge with the priorities and the principles of the Union, an idea shared by all members of the European Scientific Community.
objectivesThe e-conference was intended to inventorise, synthesise and report on the opinion of Europe's marine biodiversity communities (scientists, science programmers and funding agencies and decision-makers and the public at large) on three issues which we consider important for the development and application of marine biodiversity research:
Since the Convention on Biological Diversity in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 many initiatives for research on biodiversity issues have been launched, most of them local and short term. The implementation and further development of marine biodiversity research at the European scale was discussed in several meetings over the last years organized by the CEC and the ESF (Mast days Sorrento, 1995 and Lisbon, 1998, CEC/ESF workshops in Plymouth 1997 and Yerseke (1998, 1999). The reports of the last two meetings are available from the Marine Board on the ESF web site www.esf.org. From these meetings a consensus had grown in the scientific community in Europe that in order to achieve the long-term and large-scale research that is needed to answer some of the most important questions in biodiversity an important concertation and co-ordination is required. Long-term biodiversity research, i.e. for more than 10 years, is very difficult to implement, even at the national level. Some of the major obstacles are the national and European funding systems and also the lack of an internationally agreed methodology for the measurement of marine biodiversity and the choice of indicators for (the degree of) biodiversity.
- what are the main scientific problems, locally and on the European and global scale, and what is the knowledge required to understand and predict patterns of marine biodiversity in Europe?
- consequently, how must we organize marine biodiversity research in the changing Europe of tomorrow?
- what is needed for the application of marine biodiversity research in management and protection of the marine environment?
In 1994, the European Marine Stations Network (MARS), a non-profit foundation incorporated in the Netherlands, was founded, to cope with these obstacles. In 2000 a MARS-related initiative, Implementation and Networking of large-scale long-term marine Biodiversity research in Europe (BIOMARE) started. This concerted action, supported by the CEC, aims at achieving a European consensus on the selection and implementation of a network of reference sites as the basis for long-term and large-scale marine biodiversity research in Europe, internationally agreed standardised and normalised measures and indicators for (the degree of) biodiversity, and facilities for capacity building, dissemination and networking of marine biodiversity research. Twenty-one institutes co-operate in the concerted action.
Although this is an important initiative, the results of BIOMARE will only become available by 2002. The growing interest in biodiversity in Europe, with Rio +10 and with the new 6th framework programme, requires broadening the discussion to a wider range of subjects and to a wider audience, by not only including more scientists but science managers and end users as well. There is need for a state of the art summary of the problems related to the scientific issues, to the organisation of management of the science and to its application in the future.
The e-conference will address some aspects of biodiversity research and implementation that are relevant in the present political settings of the EU community:
This e-conference aims at discussing the bottlenecks and their solutions in producing relevant knowledge and the implementation of this knowledge in policy, management and conservation; therefore contributing to the development of a platform for (marine) biodiversity research in Europe.
- European scientists are more and more joining forces in order to study biodiversity patterns in Europe at the scales required, by sharing logistics and exchanging expertise. In 2001 important decisions will have to be taken on flagship sites and their scientific support at the European scale. This research can only be done if sufficient commitment is created not after but during the development of the programme.
- The bottlenecks of large-scale, long-term biodiversity research have only been addressed until now by scientists. Their solution requires co-operation with managers and politicians. An overview of these bottlenecks will not only help researchers in future to structure the development of joint research plans but also provides a tool to develop strategies to solve common problems.
- The application of the Rio definition of biodiversity (genes, species, habitats) requires both scientific thinking and translation of concepts useful for application. A dialogue between end users (e.g. the EEA, the CEC and national monitoring agencies) and the researchers as to what both parties require and deliver is therefore urgently needed.
- The interest for and the funding of marine biodiversity research lags behind that of terrestrial biodiversity research. One reason for this is that the problems are not well inventoried and recognized. There is not enough discussion between terrestrial and marine scientists. A much better dialogue is required so that both parties understand each other's problems and learn from each other's approaches.
organisationThe three main discussion themes (fora)of the conference were discussed in three subsequent weeks:
Discussions on each of these themes are led by a chair. Chairpersons invite specialists that are willing to discuss the topics via this site; but everyone is welcome to apply for access to the discussion groups. Each day, the chair will open the discussion. He/she will start the first day with an introduction to the discussion item, and the following days he/she will present an abstract of the previous discussions and give directions for the discussions that day; these will be accessible through the summaries pages. Contributions to the discussion will be vetted by the chairperson before they are visible on the web site. At the end of the week, the chairperson will present an abstract and a synthesis of the discussions via the web site. For every theme, there was chair and a 'provocateur', who made controversial statements, to stimulate discussion. Chairpersons and provocateurs for the three themes are
- theme 1 main issues in marine biodiversity research: 8-12 October 2001
- theme 2 implementation and application of biodiversity research in management, conservation and science: 15-19 October 2001
- theme 3 the future of marine biodiversity research: 22-26 October 2001
- theme 1: Carlos Duarte (chair), Richard Warwick (prov.)
- theme 2: Mark Costello (chair), John Gray (prov.)
- theme 3: Ricardo Santos (chair), Magda Vincx (prov.)
The results of the e-conference are printed in this report and are presented at the meeting of the European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategy in Brussels, December 2-4 2001.
General coordination: Carlo Heip and Pim van Avesaath
Web site and conference hosted by VLIZ