Species & Habitats

Biologically diverse oceans and seas have a high value, both ecologically and in the public's perception, and play an important role in environmental functioning. However, many sensitive marine species and habitats are vulnerable to pressures from human activities, which can result in loss of habitats, declines in abundance of species or compromised health status of both species and habitats.

OSPAR has established a list of threatened and/or declining species and habitats in the North-East Atlantic. This list provides an overview of the biodiversity in need of protection in the North-East Atlantic and is being used by the OSPAR Commission to guide the setting of priorities for further work on the conservation and protection of marine biodiversity under Annex V of the OSPAR Convention.

In 2014 a new intersessional group was established to coordinate the implemention of the Recommendations that have been adopted to improve the protection and conservation of these species and habitats (ICG-POSH) across thematic committees, have oversight on the management of the OSPAR List and ensure the necessary monitoring and assessment is in place. Whilst this group was established within BDC, because of the scope of the actions articulated in the Recommendations the expertise supporting the group is cross-cutting and draws in particular on the expertise of OSPAR’s Environmental Impacts of Human Activities Committee (EIHA).

An initial set of case reports were developed assessing species and habitats against certain criteria (the Texel/Faial Criteria) to support their initial inclusion on the list. This has been extended by a series of background documents which provide further information on the status of each of the species and habitats as well as the threats they face and give recommendations on the actions and measures that could be taken to ensure the conservation of these species and habitats and to monitor the progress of this work.

The UK is leading a programme to develop habitat maps showing the distribution of habitats on the OSPAR List of threatened and/or declining species and habitats.

The OSPAR Commission is working to ensure the protection of the species and habitats on the list either through its own programmes and measures or, where appropriate, through cooperation with other international authorities e.g. the list includes a number of commercial fish species. OSPAR Recommendations targeted at the protection of species and habitats from the list have been adopted. A further OSPAR Recommendation aims to encourage the consideration of the listed species and habitats in assessments of the environmental impact of human activities in the OSPAR area.

The list of species and habitats is based upon nominations by Contracting Parties and observers to the Commission of species and habitats that they consider to be priorities for protection. Evidence in support of those nominations has been collectively examined by the OSPAR Commission on the basis of the relevant Texel/Faial criteria for the identification of species and habitats in need of protection and peer reviewed by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). The list seeks to complement, but not duplicate, the work under the EC Habitats and Birds directives and measures under the Berne Convention, the Bonn Convention and the Ramsar Convention and other relevant instruments.