Informing sustainable management of the deep-sea
Submitting InstitutionPlymouth University
Unit of AssessmentEarth Systems and Environmental Sciences
Summary Impact TypeEnvironmental
Research Subject Area(s)
Earth Sciences: Oceanography
Environmental Sciences: Environmental Science and Management
Biological Sciences: Ecology
Summary of the impact
This case study highlights the research at Plymouth University evidencing
the problems of deep
sea fishing in European waters. Working with policy makers, NEAFC, GOs,
NGOs, and industry
the researchers have contributed to solutions to deep-sea management
problems across Europe.
They have developed new techniques for habitat mapping which, coupled with
human use data,
has helped establish large offshore Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that
have minimized the
effects of displacement on the industry while providing key refuges for
ecosystem recovery and
Plymouth University is one of the leading institutions in the field of
conservation and sustainable
management of deep-sea ecosystems. As coastal fisheries around the world
industrial fishing has spread deeper in pursuit of the last economically
attractive concentrations of
fishable biomass. Hall-Spencer (Professor of Marine Biology, based in
Plymouth from 05-present) and
Howell (Lecturer in Marine Ecology, based in Plymouth from 05-present) has
problem of deep sea fishing in European waters through peer-reviewed
supporting reports. Hall-Spencer et al. (2002) was the first to report
widespread ecological damage
to deep-water (>200m) coral reefs in the NE Atlantic, including in UK
waters. This work was
followed up with numerous peer reviewed papers by Howell and Hall-Spencer
that catalogue an
increasing problem of long-term habitat damage and deep sea biodiversity
loss due to damaging
deep sea fishing activities. Davies et al. (2007) provide a robust review
of anthropogenic pressure
on the deep-sea ecosystem and identified future concerns.
Having evidenced human induced degradation of the deep sea ecosystem,
Howell and Hall-
Spencer have worked proactively with FAO, UNESCO and other NGOs and GOs to
scientifically robust data on which to base policy decisions, particularly
in relation to the challenges
identified by the International Convention on Biological Diversity to
conserve 10% of the World's
eco-regions within MPAs by 2020. Hall-Spencer et al. (2009) describe how
scientific evidence was
used to engage with industry and Governments to establish large MPAs both
in UK waters and on
the High Seas to prevent long-term destruction of ancient habitats that
are refuges for rare species
and reservoirs of healthy deep-sea ecosystems. Information on seabed
habitats is essential both
for the development of new economic activities and for assessing the
impact of these activities on
the marine environment. Decisions regarding location of MPAs rely on an
understanding of the
extent and distribution of marine habitats, and increasingly marine
habitat mapping is recognised
as critical to this process. Howell et al. (2010), which was first
published in the form of a series of
Government reports (Narayanaswamy et al., 2006; Howell et al., 2007;
Davies et al., 2007; Howell
et al., 2009), used a combination of acoustic multibeam survey coupled
with video transect survey
to describe and map the distribution of the benthic communities of the
banks, seamounts and
canyons of the UK deep-sea area. Howell demonstrated there were
significant areas of cold water
coral reef habitat and coral gardens habitat at all these sites.
Howell (2010) identifies the inadequacy of current deep-sea habitat
including the pan-European system EUNIS, to represent deep-sea
biodiversity in any meaningful
sense. The paper proposes a new system based on a review of our current
understanding of deep-
sea benthic biology (bottom up approach), which would be more appropriate
for use in planning
marine protected areas. Howell et al., (2011) demonstrates the application
of statistical models that
predict species presence from environmental characteristics, to habitat
mapping using the reef-
forming cold water coral Lophelia pertusa as a case study. The
study is the first to apply species
niche modelling techniques to whole assemblages, demonstrating a new
approach to habitat
mapping. It also demonstrates the relative rarity of Lophelia pertusa
reef compared to the
distribution of the isolated colonies of the species.
References to the research
All research is from peer reviewed papers. Authors in bold at Plymouth
1. Hall-Spencer, J., Allain, V., & Fosså, J. H. (2002).
Trawling damage to Northeast Atlantic
ancient coral reefs. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.
Series B: Biological
Sciences, 269(1490), 507-511. Royal Society's flagship biological
research journal. JIF: 5.415.
Scopus total citations: 88. Data gathered at sea off Spain and
France by Allain, off Britain and
Ireland by Hall-Spencer and off Norway by Fossa. Hall-Spencer led the
writing and was PI of
the Royal Society grant to support this work.
2. Davies A, Roberts JM, Hall-Spencer JM (2007) Preserving
deep-sea natural heritage:
emerging issues in offshore conservation and management. Biological
Conservation 138, 299-
312. JIF:4.115. Scopus total citations: 59. Hall-Spencer was PI of
the Esmee Fairbairn grant to
support this work and carried out the fisheries displacement analyses,
data on deep-sea impacts and Davies led the writing.
3. Hall-Spencer JM, Tasker M, Soffker M, Christiansen S,
Rogers S, Campbell M, Hoydal K
(2009) The design of Marine Protected Areas on High Seas and territorial
waters of Rockall.
Marine Ecology Progress Series 397, 305-308. JIF:
2.711. Scopus total citations: 11. This
work was undertaken on behalf of the ICES. Hall-Spencer led the study and
the writing, his
students Soffker and Campbell analysed the data that were provided by
Tasker from JNCC,
Christiansen from WWF, Rogers from CEFAS and Hoydal from NEAFC.
4. Howell KL (2010) A benthic classification system to aid in the
implementation of marine
protected area networks in the deep / high seas of the NE Atlantic. Biological
143, 1041-1056. JIF: 4.115. Scopus total citations: 16.
5. Howell KL, Davies JS, and Narayanaswamy BE (2010).
Identifying deep-sea megafaunal
epibenthic assemblages for use in habitat mapping and marine protected
area network design.
Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
90, 33-68. JIF:1, Scopus
total citations: 11 The Plymouth University based authors conceived
the idea, gathered the
raw data, analysed the data and wrote the paper, the contribution of the
University author was minimal. Narayanaswamy aided in the collection of
the raw data.
6. Howell KL, Holt R, Pulido Endrino I, and
Stewart H (2011) When the species is also a
habitat: comparing the predictively modelled distributions of Lophelia
pertusa and the reef
habitat it forms. Biological Conservation, 144, 2656-2665.
JIF: 4.115, Scopus total citations: 7.
the Plymouth University based authors conceived of, gathered the raw data,
analysed the data
and wrote the paper. The non-Plymouth University based author (Stewart)
acoustic data on which the biological model was partly based.
Details of the impact
Following the 1992 International Convention on Biological Diversity,
National and International
legislation has been put in place to improve sustainable management of the
Hall-Spencer and Howell conducted applied research that influenced
national and international
marine policy (Hall-Spencer, 2007) and directly informed and shaped
implementation of global,
European and national policies such as the Oslo-Paris Convention (OSPAR),
Habitats and Species Directive, the European Marine Strategy Framework
Directive, as well as the
UK Marine Act, (Hall-Spencer et al., 2009; Howell, 2010). It has had a
huge impact on public
policy and services.
Policy decisions or changes to legislation, regulations or guidelines
have been informed by
research evidence. Howell and Hall-Spencer's research played a
pivotal role in supporting ICES
advice to NEAFC in recommending area closures to bottom-trawl fisheries on
Hatton and Rockall
banks. Deep sea coral distribution maps developed from historical data
(Hall-Spencer et al., 2007),
supplemented with new data produced by Howell (Narayanaswamy et al., 2006;
Howell et al.,
2007; Howell et al., 2009, 2010) were subsequently integrated with
satellite tracking data (Davies
et al., 2007; Hall-Spencer et al., 2009), to inform recommendations of
suitable areas for closure to
bottom-trawl fishing for the protection of vulnerable coral ecosystems.
were subsequently adopted by NEAFC. Howell and Hall-Spencer's research has
resulted in the establishment of fisheries closures on Rockall and Hatton
Banks, NE Atlantic, by the
North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC). (Sources 2, 3, 4, 7).
The data on both community composition and distribution presented in
Howell et al., 2010 (and the
grey literature reports that preceded the paper) has been the key
information underpinning the
designation of 3 deep-sea MPAs (Special Areas for Conservation) by the UK
including the largest MPA in Europe Hatton Bank. Through highlighting the
presence of listed
vulnerable marine ecosystems at these sites Howell's research has directly
designation of these areas as SACs by the UK Government. (Source 5).
Research by Hall-Spencer highlighting the damage to cold water coral
reefs (Hall-Spencer et al.,
2002), implementation of Marine Protected Areas in the deep sea and
possible monitoring and
enforcement methods (Davies et al 2007; Hall-Spencer et al. 2009) have
been used by UK
Government to inform policy and to identify gaps in marine research
knowledge, develop the
monitoring programmes as required under the Marine Strategy Framework
Directive, and produce
an initial assessment for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
Hall-Spencer's research has
directly informed the assessment of the state of the UK's marine area.
Howell's research on the NE Atlantic continental shelf break region
(Howell et al., 2010) and on
deep-sea ecology in general informed the case for support proposing Hatton
Bank, Rockall Bank
and the Hatton-Rockall Basin as an Ecologically and Biologically
Significant Area (EBSA).
Identification of such areas underpins implementation of Marine Protected
Areas under the
international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to which the UK
Government is a
contracting party. Through identifying this area as an EBSA the North East
Commission (NEAFC) and contracting parties to OSPAR are now in the process
of considering the
area for protection. Both Howell and Hall-Spencer's research directly
informed the process of
identifying this Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area (EBSA).
The research has been adopted or an existing technology or process
improved: The importance of
seabed habitat mapping has been increasingly recognised in recent years.
Both the UK and EU
marine habitat maps developed using the methods proposed by Howell (for
the deep-sea region),
will be used by both UK Government and the European Commission's
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, to support the implementation requirements
of the European Marine
Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), specifically the Initial Assessments
which all Member
States must undertake in 2012. Howell has developed a biologically
classification system for the NE Atlantic deep-sea which has been adopted
by the UK Government
and Europe in their development of both a revised single UK marine habitat
map and a unified
European marine habitat map. (Sources 1, 6).
Sources to corroborate the impact
1) Final Report of EUSeaMap summarising the work of the project: Cameron,
A. and Askew, N.
(eds). 2011. EUSeaMap - Preparatory Action for development and assessment
of a European
broad-scale seabed habitat map final report. Available at http://jncc.gov.uk/euseamap.
details the rationale, methodology and results of the project and provides
evidence of the
international importance of Howell's research in mapping the deep sea
areas of Europe.
2) ICES. 2007. Report of the Working Group on Deep-water Ecology (WGDEC)
2007. ICES CM 2007/ACE:01 Ref. LRC. 61 pp.
This report evidences the use of Howell and Hall-Spencer's research in
developing advice to the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission and
European Commission on
marine protected areas in the NE Atlantic deep sea for the protection of
cold water corals. The
report predates 2008 but the area closures that constitute the impact were
implemented in 2008.
3) ICES. 2008. Report of the ICES-NAFO Joint Working Group on Deep Water
10-14 March 2008, Copenhagen, Denmark. ICES CM 2008/ACOM:45. 126 pp.
This evidences the continued use of Howell and Hall-Spencer's research
in developing advice to both the NE Atlantic Fisheries Commission and the
on marine protected areas in the NE Atlantic deep sea for the protection
of cold water corals.
4) Official letters of communication between the International Council
for the Exploration of the Sea
and the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission where recommendations for
(MPAs) are made. An annual series from 2007 to 2013 are at www.ices.dk
5) Joint Nature Conservation Committee (UK Government)JNCC, 2009.
Offshore Special Area of
Conservation (SAC) Selection Assessments. All available http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-4534.
(For convenience, direct links to each of three offshore sites
The report provides detailed information
about and evaluates their interest features according to the Habitats
Directive selection criteria and
guiding principles. They provide the information required under Regulation
7 of the Offshore
Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats, & c.) Regulations 2007, to
enable the Secretary of State to
transmit to the European Commission the list of sites eligible for
designation as Special Areas of
Conservation (SACs). Howell's research is heavily cited as the evidence
base in these three sites
in their first published format of grey literature reports, which were
later published in the peer
reviewed literature as Howell et al., 2010.
6) McBreen, F., Askew, N., Cameron, A., Connor, D., Ellwood, H. &
Carter, A. (2011). UKSeaMap
2010: Predictive mapping of seabed habitats in UK waters. Joint Nature
Report, No. 446. http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/PDF/jncc446_web.pdf.
This is the final report of the
UKSeaMap 2010 project, established to produce an ecologically relevant,
full-coverage map of
seabed habitats across the entire UK marine area. It details the project
rationale, methodology and
results, evidencing the importance of Howell's research in mapping the
deep sea areas of the UK.
7) NEAFC. Recommendations 2008-2012. These two documents show that NEAFC
the advice provided by ICES, which was based upon Howell and
Hall-Spencer's research (see
sources 2, 3, and 4), and closed areas of both Hatton and Rockall Banks to
creating Marine Protected Areas. This was the ultimate impact and occurred
8) UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (2010). Charting Progress
2 Healthy and
Biological Diverse Seas Feeder report. (Eds. Frost, M. & Hawkridge,
J). Published by Department
for Environment Food and Rural Affairs on behalf of UKMMAS. 278pp.
This is an
independent report commissioned by Defra and presenting an updated and
of the status of the UK marine environment. The report is based on a
evidence base and describes progress made since the first Charting
Progress report, published in
2005. It is a source of the key findings from UK marine research and
monitoring and is used in
policy-making to help protect our oceans and seas. Hall-Spencer's research
is cited by this report.
9) Joint OSPAR/NEAFC/CBD Scientific Workshop on the Identification of
Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs) in the North-East Atlantic.
Hyères, France: 8 - 9
September 2011 http://www.cbd.int/doc/meetings/sbstta/sbstta-16/information/sbstta-16-inf-05-
Both Howell and Hall-Spencer's research contribute to this report
outlining the evidence
base for the designation of the Hatton-Rockall Plateau as an Ecologically
or Biologically Significant
Marine Area (EBSA) as defined under the International Convention of
10) Letter from the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. The coalition is
made up of over seventy
non-governmental organizations (NGOs), fishery organizations and law and
worldwide, all committed to protecting the deep sea. http://www.savethehighseas.org/.