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EMODnet Seabed Habitats supports mapping process of habitats and biotopes to strengthen the information base of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Scottish waters

04 Mar 2019

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is the public body that advises the UK and devolved Governments on UK-wide and international nature conservation. They are responsible for the conservation of the offshore marine environment, including a key role in the provision of advice on the designation and management of offshore MPAs. This work was carried out in partnership with Envision Ltd, an environmental consultancy specialising in marine habitat mapping and modelling. 

The objective of the project was to generate seabed habitat maps for locations overlapping with Scottish MPA proposals, as detailed as possible within the Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland (MNCR) and corresponding EUNIS code. Data feeding into these habitat maps were required to undergo preliminary preparation in order to ensure suitability and compatibility with the mapping methodologies proposed, before being processed using multiple different techniques.  Users looked to approaches used by MESH, UKSeaMap and EUSeaMap, using substrate information provided by British Geological Survey (BGS), alongside bathymetric and wave base data.  This work was required to contribute to the evidence base for the presence and extent of MPA features underpinning the identification of proposed MPAs in Scotland’s seas.

Acoustic datasets were ground-truthed or verified using existing physical variables from EMODnet Seabed Habitats' EUSeaMap, such as biological zone, seabed energy levels and light attenuation models. Four areas were selected to be mapped, for which bathymetry coverage and backscatter, sample points (biotope and PSA records) and biological zone, seabed energy levels and light attenuation data (from EUSeaMap) were available.  These data were processed according to the top-down methods developed by MESH, UKSeaMap and EUSeaMap which utilised the updated seabed substrate information provided by BGS. This involved coarse-resolution models of physical parameters being intersected with seabed substrate information to produce a categorised map of benthic habitats at EUNIS level 3/4, defaulting to the lower, less detailed level of hierarchical classification when a more detailed level could not be determined. In addition to this rule-based top-down methodology a statistical approach was also applied for each area, using sample point data to interpret physical parameters giving a bottom-up data driven approach.  

The objective of generating seabed habitat maps as detailed to the MNCR and EUNIS classifications as possible, for locations coinciding with nature conservation MPA proposals in Scotland’s waters was met. These maps contributed to the evidence base for the presence and extent of MPA conservation features underpinning the selection of MPA proposals in Scotland’s seas.The identification and designation of additional MPAs feeds into the Scottish Governments goal of having a “clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse marine and coastal environment that meets the long term needs of people and nature.”