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A Trans-AtLantic Assessment and deep-water ecosystem-based Spatial management plan for Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ATLAS (A Trans-AtLantic Assessment and deep-water ecosystem-based Spatial management plan for Europe)

Reporting period: 2017-11-01 to 2019-04-30

ATLAS aims to advance our understanding of the North Atlantic’s deep-sea ecosystems, including their connectivity, functioning and responses to future predicted changes in human use and ocean climate. Research activities are focussing on waters 200-2000 m deep where the greatest gaps in our understanding lie and certain populations and ecosystems are known to be under pressure. As well as carrying out pioneering research and discovery, ATLAS is developing a scientific knowledge base that can inform the development of international policies to ensure deep-sea Atlantic resources are managed effectively. This will contribute to the European Commission’s long-term Blue Growth strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole.
The overarching objectives of ATLAS are:
1. Improve understanding of deep Atlantic marine ecosystems and populations by collecting and integrating high-resolution measurements of ocean circulation with functioning, biological diversity, genetic connectivity and socioeconomic values.
2. Improve the capacity to monitor, model and predict shifts in deep-water ecosystems and populations in response to future change through a better understanding of the connections between physical parameters and biological characteristics to support sustainable exploitation in the North Atlantic.
3. Transform new data, tools and understanding into robust ocean governance in line with an adaptive ecosystem-based maritime spatial planning (MSP) approach to achieve ecosystem preservation, sustainable exploitation and Blue Growth.
4. Scenario-test and develop science-led, cost-effective adaptive management strategies for sustainable use of living and non-living resources that stimulate Blue Growth.
The first 18 months of ATLAS have focused on data gathering in relation to Objectives 1 and 2:
• New chemical sensors have been deployed on existing physics moorings in the eastern subpolar North Atlantic through collaboration with the UK NERC funded OSNAP program. This is a key advancement in our ability to understand the interactions of ocean physics with ocean ecosystems – in particularly the cold-water coral systems of the Atlantic.
• In conjunction with GEOMAR, partners have been using outputs from VIKING20, a high-resolution model of North Atlantic ocean circulation, to make predictions about the potential connectivity of deep-sea ecosystems derived from Lagrangian particle tracking approaches. The initial VIKING20 results provide a baseline of physical variability on which to base additional particle tracking work exploring the impact of biological effects such as ecologically realistic larval lifetimes and behaviours such as larval swimming.
• Existing literature on the physiology of cold-water corals and sponges has been reviewed to support the physiological experimental and modelling efforts planned within ATLAS. An inventory of existing relevant publications and general papers has been assembled in a publicly-accessible database.
• A publicly-accessible database on deep-sea biodiversity of the North Atlantic with an emphasis on Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) has also been produced. Looking at the distribution of VME indicator data there was a substantial amount of information for both the Eastern and Western Atlantic but a surprisingly low number of records for the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
• Regarding genetic connectivity, candidate species for analysis have been identified based upon their important functional roles in sensitive deep‐water Atlantic ecosystems, their availability in existing ATLAS partner collections and a database of this information has been produced.
• A Delphi survey has been undertaken to assess the impacts of human drivers on deep-sea ecosystem services. Temperature change, ocean acidification and fisheries were perceived to have the greatest impacts on ecosystem services. The services thought to be the most impacted were the provisioning services of fish and shellfish, biodiversity, as both a supporting and a cultural service and the supporting service of habitats.
ATLAS has completed an intensive schedule of offshore cruises which cross cut the ATLAS WPs to deliver new data on oceanography, marine biodiversity, genetics and connectivity. 19 ATLAS related research cruises have taken place, with a further 15 planned for 2018 and 2019. These have included a cruise from the Scotian Shelf to Bermuda organised by ATLAS 3rd Party DFO Canada on board the CCGS Hudson; the MEDWAVES cruise, led by IEO sailing from the Alborán Sea to Azores; The Rockall Bank expedition, led by NIOZ on board the RV Pelagia and the Ifremer Videocor 1 expedition in the Mediterranean Sea. All cruise reports are made available in Open Access through the ATLAS communities page at Zenodo (
Expected outcomes:
• Improve understanding climate change resilience and feedback effects on deep-water ecosystems enable improved determination of boundary conditions of environmentally sustainable exploitation activities now and in the future.
• Enhance understanding relationships of Atlantic ecosystems to food quality and supply to assist international and EU policy, planning and research, in the context of ocean food quality and security.
• Develop an understanding of deep-sea ecosystem services to assist informed political decision making based on values connected to ecosystem services and value trade-offs for blue growth including non-market values connected to marine ecosystems.
• Ocean-scale Environmental Impact Assessments to improve sustainability of existing and new fisheries aquaculture and marine resources and to provide scientific support for implementation of effective measures to protect VMEs based on the best available scientific information.
• Location and predictive models of Atlantic VME distribution to provide improved rationale for MPAs and closed areas.
• Improve cooperation among the EU Member States with respect to Atlantic ecosystem-based research as well as with International partner countries.
The scope of ATLAS and early deliverables have been explained at specific meetings of key agreements and related conferences and seminars. Policy implications of ATLAS deliverables for these agreements will be further developed as results are consolidated and as ATLAS progresses. In March 2017 the first ATLAS Science-Policy Panel held at the European Parliament included contributions from the Canadian Healthy Oceans Network and Woodside to highlight the project’s transatlantic and industrial linkages respectively. The timing of ATLAS aligns well with opportunities to inform and influence policy options. These include the development of a new United Nations Implementing Agreement for biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ), with implications for North Atlantic regional governance organisations); delivery of Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals; formulation of seabed mineral exploitation regulations by the International Seabed Authority; and EU maritime policies (MSFD, CFP, MSP).