29 September 2017
Scientists from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) today publish a landmark study bringing together nearly half a century of UK seabed grab survey data. These data originate from multiple sources in industry and government, and their collation and standardisation represents a significant opportunity to better understand and protect our marine environment.
The work "A big data approach to macrofaunal baseline assessment, monitoring and sustainable exploitation of the seabed", published in the journal Scientific Reports, provides new insights into the distribution of seabed animal communities (Fig. 1), and allows for a more effective approach to monitoring the environmental effects of offshore industries.
Fig. 1. A Distribution of animal communities from the baseline dataset.
This novel method uses an understanding of the natural variability between animal communities and their environment, based on big data (33,198 samples from 777 surveys), to help identify which impacts are likely to have ecological significance. This allows for adaptive management (i.e. using the results of monitoring to make informed decisions about how to mitigate negative impacts), and a more environmentally sustainable approach to managing activities in the marine environment.
The paper provides details of the Regional Seabed Monitoring Plan (RSMP), a new approach based on the above concept, for monitoring impacts of marine aggregate dredging on the seabed. The UK aggregate dredging industry provides sand and gravel for use in construction, fill, and coastal defence, from licensed extraction areas located around the coast of England and Wales. The RSMP aims to ensure that the seabed after dredging is left in a condition which will allow for recolonisation, thereby improving the environmental sustainability of this activity.
The architect of the study, Dr Keith Cooper of Cefas said "This study provides a fantastic example of how close collaboration between industry and government can help improve our collective understanding of the marine environment. This in turn allows for better protection of marine biodiversity whilst also enabling economic activity."
Mark Russell, Executive Director of BMAPA (British Marine Aggregate Producers Association) said: "The Regional Seabed Monitoring Programme approach has allowed individual sample stations to apply across multiple licence areas, therefore reducing duplication of sampling effort and increasing the robustness and consistency of the baseline data that is being acquired for environmental monitoring. By adopting a more integrated approach in the delivery of regulatory compliance, significant savings in time, effort and resources are expected to be realised by not only industry operators, but also regulators and statutory advisors throughout the life of all the licensed marine aggregate operations that are covered by the RSMP programme."
Matthew Kinmond of the Marine Management Organisation commented: "The Regional Seabed Monitoring Plans will provide us with proportionate, cost effective monitoring that will allow us to apply an adaptive management approach to marine aggregate dredging activity."
Data from this study is available at from the Cefas Data Hub.
- The research is freely available online at nature.com/articles/s41598-017-11377-9. The associated dataset has been published on the Cefas data hub https://doi.org/10.14466/CefasDataHub.34. The work should be cited as:
Cooper, K. M. & Barry, J. A big data approach to macrofaunal baseline assessment, monitoring and sustainable exploitation of the seabed. Scientific Reports 7, doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-11377-9 (2017).
- The work was funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Marine Management Organisation, The Crown Estate, the British Marine Aggregate Producers Association and Welsh Government.