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Introduction to marine biological valuation maps

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This article aims to develop a scientifically sound and widely applicable concept for marine biological valuation as part of the Evaluation and assesment in coastal management, drawing on existing valuation criteria and methods (literature review) and attempts to rationalize them into a single model. This concept represents a consensus reached by a large and diverse group of experts in the field (see author list[1]) during a workshop on marine biological valuation (6 to 8 December 2006, Ghent, Belgium). The workshop report can be downloaded at (http://www.marbef.org/documents/Theme3/GhentWS/report.pdf). Apart from its immediate merit as a guideline for marine biological valuation, this article can also be regarded as an incentive to further discussion on marine biological valuation.

Marine biological valuation maps

There is worldwide recognition of the benefits of management for sustainable use and conservation of the sea. Solid and meaningful biological and ecological information is urgently needed to inform and underpin sustainable management approaches. Marine biological valuation maps (BVMs) would provide a useful ‘intelligence system’ for managers and decision makers.

Do we need an independent assessment process for biological valuation?[2]

Biological valuation assessments have been developed primarily for terrestrial systems and species (De Blust et al. 1985, 1994). The relevance of terrestrial approaches in determining specific valuation criteria for marine systems requires an understanding of both the nature and degree of differences between marine and terrestrial systems (e.g. the extent and rate of dispersal of nutrients, materials, planktonic organisms and reproductive propagules of benthic organisms, expanding the scales of connectivity among near-shore populations, communities and ecosystems. Concepts for the selection of valuable offshore marine areas must therefore consider the ‘openness’ (continuity and natural coherence) of the sea.

Problems encountered when applying terrestrial-based assessments to marine areas are currently demonstrated in the difficulties encountered implementing the EC Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) in the marine environment. The Directive was written from a terrestrial viewpoint, and applying it to more dynamic marine systems has proved problematic. Criteria developed for identifying terrestrial species and habitats for conservation cannot be easily applied to the marine environment. Therefore, different valuation criteria may be needed for marine areas. The European Commission is currently developing a Marine Strategy Directive which recognizes the need for a thematic strategy for the protection and conservation of the European marine environment with the overall aim to promote sustainable use of the seas and conserve marine ecosystems.

Coastal planners and marine resource managers have utilized various tools for assessing the biological value of subzones in the past.

The element common to all the above approaches is the identification of criteria to discriminate between marine areas and to guide the selection process. Whilst the vast majority of these efforts are relevant to marine protected area design, there is no reason why such criteria cannot be equally helpful in coastal zone and ocean management more generally.

It is therefore necessary that the definition of the value of marine areas should be based on the assessment of areas against a set of objectively chosen ecological criteria, making best use of scientific monitoring and survey data. A first step towards such an objective valuation framework was recently made in the Netherlands, where selection criteria from the EC Habitat and Bird Directives and the OSPAR guidelines[3] were used to determine which marine areas have special ecological values in terms of high biodiversity.


These paragraphs are based on the paper by Derous et al. (2007). A concept for marine biological valuation in the marine environment. Oceanologia 49(1). See FLANDERS MARINE INSTITUTE web site at [1] for the full citation and to download a copy of the paper.


  1. Derous S., Agardy T., Hillewaert H., Hostens K., Jamieson G., Lieberknecht L., Mees J., Moulaert I., Olenin S., Paelinckx D., Rabaut M., Rachor E., Roff J., Stienen E.W.M., van der Wal J.T., Van Lancker V., Verfaillie E., Vincx M., Weslawski J.M., Degraer S. (2007). A concept for biological valuation in the marine environment. Oceanologia 49 (1).
  2. ENCORA Theme 7-MARBEF Theme 3 (2007). Workshop report of the workshop on marine biological valuation. Workshop from 6 to 8 December 2006, Gent, Belgium, pp. 33.
  3. OSPAR (2003).Criteria for ht identification of species and habitats in need of protection and their method of application (the Texel-Faial criteria). Meeting of the OSPAR Commission in Bremen, 23-27 June 2003, OSPAR 03/171-E, Annex 5.