The use of ecosystem services to conserve biodiversity in the North Sea

Human exploitation of the marine environment is increasing, resulting in the degradation of habitats and loss of biodiversity. At the same time, society is becoming more dependent on the sustainable supply of marine ecosystem services. Supplying food from the sea (fish, crustaceans and shellfish but also seaweed) is probably the best-known ecosystem service, but there are many other ecosystem services (Climate regulation through carbon capture, Sediment Nutrient Cycling or Waste and Toxicant Removal and Storage) for which the exploitation of one service can compromise that of another.

Knowledge of how the various human activities that exploit marine resources affect biodiversity - and thus the ability to provide ecosystem services - is required to regulate those activities and preserve biodiversity. Ecosystem-based management is therefore necessary, requiring integrated assessments of often several competing interests. This project aims to investigate how the concepts and valuation of ecosystem services can help in decision-making towards a sustainable exploitation of the marine environment and a conservation of marine biodiversity.

Ecosystem services

It is often still unknown in what ways biodiversity contributes to human well-being, so that a suitable assessment framework for integrated ecosystem-based management is actually lacking. In this project we want to further develop the concept of ecosystem services for the marine system in order to develop such an assessment framework. We explicitly assume a linked socio-ecological system in which ecosystem services link the various ecosystem components (fish, birds, marine mammals, as well as invertebrates on the seabed and in the water column) and different aspects of human well-being. This knowledge then becomes the basis for an assessment framework that can support integrated ecosystem-based marine management and provides a better basis for protecting biodiversity.

EU Biodiversity Strategy

Target 2 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy is to Maintain and restore ecosystems and their services. More specifically Action 5 of that target aims to Improve knowledge of ecosystems and their services in the EU while Action 7 aims to Ensure no net loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Certainly in the marine environment much of that knowledge is still lacking and as such it is unclear to what extent the supply of marine ecosystem services is compromised by the loss of biodiversity.