Scientists from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) have published a landmark study bringing together nearly half a century of UK seabed grab survey data.
These data originate from multiple sources in industry and government, and their collation and standardisation represents a significant opportunity to better understand and protect the marine environment.
According to Cefas, the work ‘A big data approach to macrofaunal baseline assessment, monitoring and sustainable exploitation of the seabed’ provides new insights into the distribution of seabed animal communities, and allows for a more effective approach to monitoring the environmental effects of offshore industries.
This novel method uses an understanding of the natural variability between animal communities and their environment, based on big data (33,198 samples from 777 surveys), to help identify which impacts are likely to have ecological significance.
This allows for adaptive management (i.e. using the results of monitoring to make informed decisions about how to mitigate negative impacts), and a more environmentally sustainable approach to managing activities in the marine environment.
The paper provides details of the Regional Seabed Monitoring Plan (RSMP), a new approach based on the above concept, for monitoring impacts of marine aggregate dredging on the seabed.
The UK aggregate dredging industry provides sand and gravel for use in construction, fill, and coastal defence, from licensed extraction areas located around the coast of England and Wales. The RSMP aims to ensure that the seabed after dredging is left in a condition which will allow for recolonisation, thereby improving the environmental sustainability of this activity.