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Movement of Harbour seals: an individual-based modelling framework as a reliable management tool

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AgentSeal (Movement of Harbour seals: an individual-based modelling framework as a reliable management tool)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2019-12-31

What is the problem/issue being addressed?
Effective conservation of species in currently altered habitat by man-made activities must be built on good understanding of animal movement and the link between environment and this movement. There is therefore a need to develop a reliable tool which takes into account the simultaneous effect of a range of internal and external factors operating at different spatial scales and influencing animal movement and performance. Such a tool must be able to capture changes in animals' condition, distribution and performance to predict the consequences of environmental change on the animals in a biologically realistic and credible way.
The project focuses on Harbour seals: a species which is currently under decline in certain areas of the UK and which is present in coastal areas: areas of high human off-shore activity.

What are the overall objectives?
The main objectives of the project were:
1. Develop a model to identify which variables affect long and short-term movement and performance of Harbour seals in the UK waters.
2. Use the above model to generate innovative predictive tools for the conservation and management of Harbour seals.

Why is it important for society?
Marine environments are threatened by human exploitation, degradation, fragmentation, habitat loss and impairment of ecological functioning. Such environmental stressors can strongly influence movement, behaviour and performance of individuals e.g. foraging, breeding success. It is important that society, including science community, takes action to minimise the effect of human activities on the environment. AgentSeal is a tool which can guide human activities to minimise such effect.
Objective one was fulfilled by building a short-term individual-based movement model, which is currently being published. After the model has been built, I started cooperating with authors of already existing tools (such as iPCoD ( and DEPONS ( Together we are in the process of building a management tool which would combine pros and cons of these three tools.
The main result of the model was that short term movement and performance of seals is strongly affected by seals digestive constraints and cognitive behaviour. Objective one was, therefore, additionally extended by using the model for blue skies research exploring these two aspects. This extension is currently involving two projects conducted by a partner institution.
Objective two was fulfilled by continuous cooperation with various stakeholders who may be potential end users of the tool: consulting companies, government advisors and industry. It also involved a full day workshop with 25 participants which involved presentation of the tool and all day discussion on pros and cons of a good management tool. This objective was also fulfilled by discussing the tool design with computer and data management scientists.
The main result of the project is a model which can already serve as a tool to increase our understanding of movement of seals and, which can serve as a further development to become a management tool to understand how this movement is affected by man made activities.
The general societal and policy implications of the issues addressed by the project, the socio-economic significance of marine resources and marine based industries are compounded with the fact that the model species, Harbour seal, is one with a social and economic value, whose management is usually surrounded by a complex matrix of interests (e.g. tourism, fishery). The model can, therefore, be used by such group of interests to understand how their activity may affect movement of seals.
The model can also be used as a robust and reliable tool in Environmental Impact Assessments, especially related to off-shore energy industry, which is a significant part of human off-shore activities.
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