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Knowledge, Assessment, and Management for AQUAtic Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services aCROSS EU policies (AQUACROSS)

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Aquatic ecosystems management put to the test

Human activity such as overfishing poses a threat to the biodiversity of aquatic ecosystems. To protect aquatic biodiversity, the AQUACROSS project established an integrative framework for ecosystem management.

Climate Change and Environment
Food and Natural Resources

Aquatic ecosystems comprise habitats for different species and provide numerous benefits to society. Current policies have failed to halt the degradation of aquatic ecosystems due to anthropogenic pressure, ultimately adversely affecting our well-being. In a global conservation effort, the EU has set a number of biodiversity strategy targets. Towards new ecosystem management Management strategies are paramount to conserve ecosystem biodiversity and also ensure sustainable flows of ecosystem services to society. The EU-funded AQUACROSS initiative was designed to develop an ecosystem-based management approach capable of protecting, restoring, or enhancing the resilience and sustainability of aquatic ecosystems. Existing EU directives employ management solutions that require coordination and cooperation between different policy areas spanning freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems. “During AQUACROSS we took into consideration the complex interactions between natural and human systems in aquatic environments,″ explains project coordinator Dr Manuel Lago, Ecologic Institute. The causes of aquatic biodiversity decline are complex, involving societal drivers and human activities in an intertwined social-ecological system. Different components of the ecosystem are affected, and in turn, fail to deliver services such as fish, recreational opportunities and climate regulation. To effectively protect aquatic biodiversity, certain societal objectives need to be addressed. The aim was to characterise the system in detail and outline priorities for management. Partners collaborated to establish an assessment framework by combining theoretical aspects from economics, biology and ecology, as well as practical experience of ecosystem-based management in marine, coastal, and freshwater realms. This framework facilitated the analysis of complex systems and the development of integrated management plans. After analysis of the key environmental policies, AQUACROSS unveiled synergies, conflicts and gaps in the implementation of policies and made recommendations for improvement. Understanding the interactions between human activities, ecosystems, and ecosystem services was central to the success of this effort. AQUACROSS researchers developed a linkage framework to account for anthropogenic pressures and implemented, tested, and refined the approach in eight case studies throughout Europe such as the North Sea, the Danube River Basin and the Ria de Aveiro Natura 2000 site in Portugal. The sites were selected to showcase the objectives of the EU 2020 biodiversity strategy, to understand the challenges associated with the protection of aquatic biodiversity and to offer real world results. Case study results were compiled in the AquaLinks tool, an interactive, searchable database to support policy makers and environmental managers. The database contains real ecosystem information on human activities and associated pressures, ecosystems components and the services they provide. AquaLinks also offers insight on more vulnerable linkage chains and helps choose the most appropriate management strategies. Impact of AQUACROSS From a scientific perspective, AQUACROSS has advanced the practising of ecosystem-based management through an interdisciplinary approach. Lessons learned for protecting aquatic biodiversity and a practical guide to ecosystem-based management can be found in the project’s ‘Cookbook’. The AQUACROSS activities and relevant concepts were disseminated to broad audiences from diverse disciplines, pushing the boundaries of existing knowledge. The cost effective measures and integrated management practices were implemented in case studies and communicated to local stakeholders, increasing awareness about biodiversity and ecosystem-based management. In view of the future, Dr Lago believes that “the AQUACROSS framework will enhance the resilience of aquatic biodiversity and ensure the ongoing provision of aquatic ecosystem services.″

Keywords

AQUACROSS, management, biodiversity, aquatic ecosystem, AquaLinks, case studies, marine, coastal, freshwater

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