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New online tool to standardise assessment of the status of European seas

News 2016-03-22 at 13:15

A new tool for the assessment of the state of the sea (NEAT) has been developed in a large joint European research project DEVOTES, which aims to develop indicators and assessment methods for marine biodiversity. The Finnish Environment Institute is one of the participants which include 23 research institutes from EU countries, Ukraine, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, as well as two American research institutes as observers.

Uusi merentilan arviointityökalu NEAT
A new flexible tool for the assessment of the state of the sea has been developed in a large joint European research project. © DEVOTES project

The new assessment tool is flexible and can be modified depending of the needs of the users. It is possible to choose the spatial coverage of the sea area and select the relevant indicators of species, habitats, and ecosystems reflecting the status of the marine environment, from a total of some 500 different indicators.

“It has been a challenge to modify all of the indicators into a format that fits the tool and can be easily compared. This process has forced us to rethink the indicators of the state of the marine environment in an even more structured manner, which can be useful for the work performed in the future”, says Senior Researcher Laura Uusitalo, SYKE, who participated in the development of the NEAT tool and coordinated the testing of the tool using data from the different case study areas of the EU regional seas.

The tool also provides estimates of the reliability of the assessment, based on the uncertainty of the indicator values. The more indicators and data are available, the more reliable assessments can be made.

“Due to the extensive amount of indicators, the usage of the programme is not only limited to the assessment of the biodiversity of the marine flora and fauna: it can also be extended to many other kinds of assessment of the state of the marine environment”, Uusitalo notes.

The tool is particularly designed for the use of authorities within EU member countries responsible for compiling the marine status assessments required by the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive Additionally, it can also be used by companies and consultants who need to carry out assessments of the state of the marine environment in their work. One significant feature of the new tool is that it makes the state assessments of European marine areas easier to compare to each other.

In the DEVOTES project, marine researchers from 14 countries cooperated on the Baltic Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and the Black Sea. The work shed light on the effects of human activities and pressures on marine biodiversity, and how to separate those from the variability caused by climate change. State assessments performed on various marine areas were also compared in the project.

The full name of the DEVOTES project is Development of innovative tools for understanding marine biodiversity and assessing good environmental status.

The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) develops currently a method for a joint holistic assessment of the Baltic Sea. The NEAT tool is currently being modified and developed further to meet HELCOM’s needs.

Developers of the NEAT tool are Torsten Berg from the MariLim company in Germany, Jacob Carstensen from Århus University, and Jesper Andersen from the Danish NIVA institute. The DEVOTES project is coordinated by Angel Borja from the Spanish AZTI research facility. SYKE’s Leading Researcher Anna-Stiina Heiskanen and Senior Researcher Laura Uusitalo lead the work package on indicator development.

The assessment tool, along with usage instructions, is freely available at www.devotes-project.eu/neat . It is being updated within the next months. Workshops are organised in EU member countries for teaching those interested in using the programme.


Senior Research Scientist Laura Uusitalo, SYKEn merikeskus
Tel. +358 295 251 719

Leading Researcher Anna-Stiina Heiskanen, SYKEn merikeskus
Tel. +358 295 251 162

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