Ospar Commission
OSPAR's Quality Status Report 2023 Friday Ocean Findings Issue 39
Benthic habitats are essential for marine life because many marine species rely directly or indirectly on the seafloor to feed, hide, rest or reproduce. Seafloor physical disturbance, caused by pressures associated with human activities, such as bottom-contact fishing, aggregate extraction, or offshore construction, can adversely affect benthic habitats, especially those with fragile species and organisms that take longer to recover, e.g., longer-lived species.

These assessments contribute to our 2023 Quality Status Report which, when viewed together, build a picture of the overall condition of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic and progress towards achieving our vision of a clean, healthy and biologically diverse North-East Atlantic Ocean, which is productive, used sustainably and resilient to climate change and ocean acidification. The results will also be used by OSPAR Contracting Parties to inform policy decisions.

We hope you enjoy these assessments. Please contact us with any comments at [email protected]
Extent of Physical Disturbance to Benthic Habitats: Fisheries with mobile bottom-contacting gears

A risk assessment showed seafloor disturbance caused by fishing occurred in all broad habitat types, 48% of the assessed area in 2016 to 2020, and 53% during 2009 to 2020. ‘High’ disturbance was greatest in Offshore circalittoral mud, alongside Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities, whilst disturbance was predominantly ‘Low’ on Offshore circalittoral coarse sediment.

Extent of Physical Disturbance to Benthic Habitats: Aggregate Extraction

A risk assessment based on available data showed that direct seafloor disturbance caused by aggregate extraction was localised, with less than 0,5% of the area of each habitat disturbed. Sabellaria spinulosa is the only OSPAR Threatened and / or Declining habitat under pressure from extraction but only a small proportion was affected (see also habitat-loss indicator).

Assessment of Data on the Management of Wastes or Other Matter (Dredged Material) 2008 - 2020

Dredging and dumping at sea activities have been well regulated by Contracting Parties since the Oslo Convention came into force in 1974, and then through the OSPAR Convention which came into force in 1998. Since the implementation of the original OSPAR guidelines in 1998, loads of contaminants have decreased and have been levelling since the mid-2000s. Concentrations of many contaminants monitored are considered to be now at, or close to, background concentrations in much of the dredged material.

Pilot Assessment of Area of Habitat Loss

Habitat loss is caused by sealing and by other activities leading to substrate changes. 92 km² were lost to offshore structures assessed in the Greater North Sea. A risk assessment highlights areas and habitat types most at risk from bottom trawling. Not all structures and activities contributing to loss are covered.

OSPAR Commission
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