Requirements of a habitat classification system

To underpin management and conservation of the marine environment, a habitat classification system should:
  • be scientifically sound, adopting a logical structure in which the types are clearly defined on ecological grounds, avoiding overlap in their definition and duplication of types in different parts of the system, and ensuring that ecologically-similar types are placed near to each other and at an appropriate level (within a hierarchical classification);
  • provide a common and easily understood language for the description of marine habitats;
  • be comprehensive, accounting for all the marine habitats within its geographic scope;
  • be practical in format and clear in its presentation;
  • include sufficient detail to be of practical use for conservation managers and field surveyors but be sufficiently broad (through hierarchical structuring) to enable summary habitat information to be presented at national and international levels or its use by non-specialists;
  • be sufficiently flexible to enable modification resulting from the addition of new information, but stable enough to support ongoing uses. Changes should be clearly documented to enable reference back to previous versions (where possible, newly defined types need to be related back to types in earlier versions of the classification).


The following considerations were taken into account in establishing the classification:
  • its intended application by a variety of users and at various scales (environmental managers, marine scientists and field surveyors working at local, national and international levels);
  • the variety of intended applications;
  • the variation in the scale of physical and biological features (recognising that marine ecosystems operate at a wide variety of scales, e.g. whole estuaries, individual mussel beds);
  • the different levels of detail in available data;
  • the different skill levels of future users and their different methods of survey.