Marine Strategy Framework Directive: Innovative and participatory decision-making method for the identification of common measures in the Mediterranean

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is the European Commission’s flagship initiative for the protection of the European Seas, and the first holistic approach to ensuring that European Seas reach and are maintained at what is called a ‘Good Environmental Status’ by the year 2020. Regional cooperation, especially between neighbouring countries, and involvement of all interested parties, are horizontal principles of the MSFD, and particularly apply to the definition of programmes of measures, the principal instrument through which each Member State will implement its marine strategy. This paper presents the results from a dedicated, participatory, structured decision-making process that was implemented within the framework of the ActionMed project, which aimed to bring experts and policy/decision-makers from Mediterranean neighbouring countries together, to discuss and agree upon common measures for implementation in their sub-regions. It shows that a participatory approach, supported by customised, case specific intelligent tools, that follows expertly facilitated, structured workshops can be a successful way to enhance sub-regional collaboration. The paper also presents the top ranking measures, selected by experts and decision-makers for common implementation in two Mediterranean sub-regions.

Xenia I. Loizidou, Michael I. Loizides, Demetra L. Orthodoxou, Marine Policy, Volume 84, October 2017, Pages 82–89

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Strandings of NE Atlantic gorgonians

Northeast coral gardens provide vital breeding and feeding habitats for fishes of conservation and commercial importance. Such habitats are increasingly at risk of destruction as a result of over fishing, ocean warming, acidification and marine litter.

A key cause for concern regarding the vulnerability of coral gardens to damage from any source is their slow growth rate, and thereby their ability to recover from damage. Hence protected areas are being put in place, which exclude the use of towed demersal fishing gear.

Citizen scientists observed that gorgonian coral (Pink Sea Fans) skeletons were stranding on beaches entangled in marine debris (sea fangles) across southwest England. Further, SCUBA divers reported that gorgonian corals were being caught up and damaged in lost fishing gear and other marine litter.

To determine the cause of the damage to coral gardens, sea fangles were collected and analysed.

The sea fangles were made up of a diverse range of litter from fishing and domestic sources, however, the majority comprised of fishing gear (P < 0.05).

Marine Protected Areas can protect coral gardens from direct fishing pressure, but risks still remain from ghost fishing pressure, demonstrating the need for sources of litter into the environment to be reduced and existing litter removed.

The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) outlines targets for marine litter by 2020. This study highlights the importance of adhering to the MSFD and/or creating more ambitious regulation if the UK re-write existing legislation following BREXIT.

E.V. Sheehan, A. Rees, D. Bridger, T. Williams, J.M. Hall-Spencer, Biological Conservation, Volume 209, May 2017, Pages 482–487

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Transboundary movement of marine litter in an estuarine gradient: Evaluating sources and sinks using hydrodynamic modelling and ground truthing estimates

Marine debris’ transboundary nature and new strategies to identify sources and sinks in coastal areas were investigated along the Paranaguá estuarine gradient (southern Brazil), through integration of hydrodynamic modelling, ground truthing estimates and regressive vector analysis. The simulated release of virtual particles in different parts of the inner estuary suggests a residence time shorter than 5 days before being exported through the estuary mouth (intermediate compartment) to the open ocean. Stranded litter supported this pathway, with beaches in the internal compartment presenting proportionally more items from domestic sources, while fragmented items with unknown sources were proportionally more abundant in the oceanic beaches. Regressive vector analysis reinforced the inner estuarine origin of the stranded litter in both estuarine and oceanic beaches. These results support the applicability of simple hydrodynamic models to address marine debris’ transboundary issues in the land-sea transition zone, thus supporting an ecosystem transboundary (and not territorial) management approach.

Allan Paul Krelling, Mihael Machado Souza, Allan Thomas Williams, Alexander Turra, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 119, Issue 1, 15 June 2017, Pages 48–63

The article

Benthic litter distribution on circalittoral and deep sea bottoms of the southern Bay of Biscay: Analysis of potential drivers

We analyze marine litter densities in soft bottoms of the southern Bay of Biscay using five years of demersal trawling data (2006- 2010). Marine litter densities amounted to 43 ± 33 kg·km−2 and 74 ± 28 items·km−2, with plastics and fisheries derived litter being the most widespread categories. Litter densities generally decreased along the water depth axis. To identify possible drivers for the observed litter distribution we performed a generalised additive model, which explained 14.8% of the variance and pointed to densely populated areas, number of fishing ports, geographical sector and fishing activity as the main explanatory factors. The most important driver for the benthic litter distribution was human population, as litter density linearly increased along this variable. Similarly, the number of ports in neighbouring areas had a positive effect on litter densities. Fishing effort had a negative and non-linear effect on benthic litter density which could be explained by litter delocalization during fishing operations. We hypothesise that litter might accumulate preferentially on the periphery of rocky bottoms, out of reach for our sampling methodology. Litter distribution differed among geographical sectors, pointing to other variables such as shipping traffic and oceanographic currents, which were not explicitly considered in the analysis. Our study sets a reference level for benthic macro-litter in the southern Bay of Biscay and identifies factors driving its distribution, which can be extrapolated to other continental shelf seas. Our findings lay the foundations to develop measures aiming to reduce macro-litter densities on the seafloor.

L. Lopez-Lopez, J.M. Gonzalez Irusta, A. Punzón, A. Serrano, Continental Shelf Research, Volume 144, 15 July 2017, Pages 112-119

The article

Biodegradable plastic bags on the seafloor: A future threat for seagrass meadows?

Marine plastic litter is a global concern. Carrier bags manufactured from non-biodegradable polymers constitute a large component of this litter. Because of their adverse impact on marine life, non-biodegradable bags have recently been replaced by biodegradable ones. However, growing evidence shows that these latter are not readily degradable in marine sediments and can alter benthic assemblages. The potential impact of biodegradable bags on seagrasses inhabiting sandy bottoms, which are the most widespread and productive ecosystems of the coastal zones, has been ignored. Mesocosm experiments were conducted to assess the effect of a commercialized biodegradable bag on a common seagrass species of the Mediterranean, Cymodocea nodosa, both at the level of individual plant (clonal growth) and of plant community (plant-plant relationships), under three culture regimes (plant alone, in combination with a neighbour of the same species or of the co-existing seagrass Zostera noltei) simulating different natural conditions (bare substrate, monospecific meadows or mixed meadows). The bag behaviour in marine sediment and sediment physical/chemical variables were also examined. After six months of sediment exposure, the bag retained considerable mass (85% initial weight) and reduced sediment pore-water oxygen concentration and pH. In the presence of bag, C. nodosa root spread and vegetative recruitment increased compared to controls, both intra- and interspecific interactions shifted from neutral to competitive, and the growth form changed from guerrilla (loosely arranged group of widely spaced ramets) to phalanx form (compact structure of closed spaced ramets) but only with Z. noltei. These findings suggest that biodegradable bags altering sediment geochemistry could promote the spatial segregation of seagrass clones and influence species coexistence.

Elena Balestri, Virginia Menicagli, Flavia Vallerini, Claudio Lardicci, Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 605–606, 15 December 2017, Pages 755–763

Beach macro-litter monitoring and floating microplastic in a coastal area of Indonesia

Qualitative analysis of the structures of the polymers composing floating plastic debris was performed using attenuated total reflectance-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR), and the aging of the debris was assessed by measuring carbonyl group formation on the particle surfaces. Plastic material made up > 75% of the 2313 items collected during a three-year survey. The size, shape and color of the microplastic were correlated with the polymer structure. The most abundant plastic materials were polypropylene (68%) and low-density polyethylene (11%), and the predominant colors of the plastics were white, blue and green. Cilacap Bay, Indonesia, was contaminated with microplastic at a concentration of 2.5 mg·m3. The carbonyl index demonstrated that most of the floating microplastic was only slightly degraded. This study highlights the need to raise environmental awareness through citizen science education and adopting good environmental practices.

Agung Dhamar Syakti, Rafika Bouhroum, Nuning Vita Hidayati and al., Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 20 June 2017, In Press

The article

OSPAR standard method and software for statistical analysis of beach litter data

The aim of this study is to develop standard statistical methods and software for the analysis of beach litter data. The optimal ensemble of statistical methods comprises the Mann-Kendall trend test, the Theil-Sen slope estimation, the Wilcoxon step trend test and basic descriptive statistics. The application of Litter Analyst, a tailor-made software for analysing the results of beach litter surveys, to OSPAR beach litter data from seven beaches bordering on the south-eastern North Sea, revealed 23 significant trends in the abundances of beach litter types for the period 2009–2014. Litter Analyst revealed a large variation in the abundance of litter types between beaches. To reduce the effects of spatial variation, trend analysis of beach litter data can most effectively be performed at the beach or national level. Spatial aggregation of beach litter data within a region is possible, but resulted in a considerable reduction in the number of significant trends.

Marcus Schulz, Willem van Loon, David M. Fleet, Paul Baggelaar, Eit van der Meulen, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 21 June 2017, In Press

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