Pilot dives into the Irish Sea

New seabed classification demonstrated in groundbreaking project


The launch of the Irish Sea Pilot, a trial of regional seas management, was reported in Nature News in 2002. A JNCC team based in English Nature's Kendal office leads the pilot which is sponsored by Defra to deliver some priority actions identified in the interim report of the Review of Marine Nature Conservation Irish Sea Pilot ©BGS 2003(RMNC) published in 2001. The pilot's main aims are to test a framework for marine nature conservation which utilises an ecosystem based approach to marine management at the regional sea level, and to identify changes in legislation, governance and enforcement which would be required to implement this.
The first half of the project has been occupied mainly with data collation and the creation of a Geographic Information System (GIS) for data management and analysis. Physical and hydrographical data have been used to test a new marine classification system known as marine landscapes. Our map of marine landscapes for the Irish Sea is reproduced here and represents the first time this type of classification has been employed in the UK. Marine landscapes are essentially seabed types, providing a useful description of the marine environment, broadly equivalent to a countryside map of terrestrial landscapes, such as woodlands, grasslands and uplands.
We believe that marine landscapes have a key role in maintaining overall marine biodiversity, and we are now analysing the ways that the various elements of biodiversity are associated with them. We will also examine how marine landscapes reflect the distribution of human activities such as fishing, aggregate extraction, oil and gas production, energy generation and recreation. If their value within the overall context of sustainable management of the marine environment proves to be as crucial as we anticipate, we will encourage the extension of the approach to other regional seas in UK waters.
In the second half of the project, which must be completed by the end of 2003, we will draft conservation objectives for marine landscapes and important nature conservation features such as habitats and species.
 We will be supporting this work by making recommendations about the measures needed to achieve these conservation objectives in practice. As part of this work, we are currently reviewing marine nature conservation legislation in collaboration with a subgroup of the RMNC. We will report on the outcomes from this analysis in a later Nature News.
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