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Providing tools for sustainable development in the Baltic Sea

Dredging in Gulf of Finland                                                                  Photo: Metsähallitus

Growing populations and economic development cause new challenges for sustainable use of the Baltic Sea. Many of these are reflected in various policy documents, e.g. the Baltic Sea Action Plan and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. In order to succeed, we need new instruments for marine spatial planning and environmental impact assessments.

The aim of PREHAB is to develop tools for cost-efficient mapping of biodiversity in coastal habitats. We also illustrate how these tools can be used to evaluate ecological and socio-economic benefits of management actions.

Maps are essential

Planning for a sustainable development requires a common understanding about valuable resources. Maps of the spatial distribution of biodiversity and their associated ecological goods and services provide an important basis for this.

On land, maps of biological properties such as landscape structure and extent of vegetation cover can often be derived directly from satellite or aerial photography. In general, these methods are not applicable in marine areas such as the Baltic coastal waters. Direct mapping of marine biodiversity from grab samples, dive-transects or underwater photography is usually a too expensive and time-consuming alternative. In PREHAB, we examine the possibilities and limitations of predictive mapping – i.e. construction of detailed and coherent underwater maps through a combination of limited biological sampling and modeling.

A promising alternative

We have assessed five different modeling techniques in four study areas in the Baltic. Preliminary results show that predictive mapping based on biological sampling and subsequent modeling is a realistic alternative to direct mapping. There are differences among the techniques but, in general, all produce useful models under certain circumstances.

Models predicting the occurrence, abundance and diversity of species were generally successful in all study areas. Models of benthic invertebrates and vegetation performed best, whereas the models of fish reproduction areas tended to be slightly less accurate. There were large differences among species, possibly explained by differences in the amount of data and size of study area. Furthermore, access to precise information on depth and bottom substrate is particularly important for successful modeling.

Predicting the effects of management

Modeling can be used not only to map current distributions of species and habitats, but also to predict future development. This is extremely useful for exploring the biological consequences of alternative management strategies. As an example, we have evaluated effects on the distribution of vegetation and recruitment areas of fish under different scenarios for reduction of eutrophication, in connection to the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP).

The results suggest that we can expect large differences among species: Reducing eutrophication will have strong positive effects on the coverage of e.g. bladderwrack, while the effects on eelgrass are expected to be small. For fish, the results are even more intriguing. On the one hand, recruitment areas for perch are predicted to increase as a result of management actions decreasing eutrophication. On the other hand, habitats suitable for pikeperch will be negatively affected.

Apart from revealing patterns that are important both from a biological and socio-economic perspective, our scenario modeling analyses clearly demonstrates the absolute need to put management actions in a spatial context when evaluating alternative management options.

Valuating the benefits

In order to contrast market-based profits from human exploitation, sustainable coastal management needs monetary estimates of the goods and services provided by marine ecosystems.

In PREHAB, we have used results from the scenario modelling to examine how the mitigation measures in the BSAP can be valuated in economic terms. In a choice experiment survey, respondents from Sweden, Finland and Lithuania declared their willingness to pay (WTP) for future environmental changes of the marine habitats.

The results demonstrate that citizens of the Baltic Sea countries really value a clean and healthy sea and are willing to pay for it, although there are regional differences. Overall, the willingness to pay (WTP) for marine improvements in each country is large. For instance, in Finland and Sweden, the total WTP for the implementation of the BSAP is about ten times larger than the estimated costs.

Expected end-users

  • Officials working with spatial planning issues on local, regional and national authorities in the Baltic coastal regions
  • Consultants working with mapping and planning in benthic marine coastal environments
  • Politicians on local, regional and national level

Preliminary results

  • predictive modeling is a promising method for obtaining useful maps on the distribution of species and habitats;
  • scenario modeling is a useful tool for understanding and predicting ecosystem responses to alternative management options;
  • the citizens of the Baltic Sea countries value a clean and healthy sea and are willing to pay for mitigation actions.

PREHAB web resource

PREHAB is producing a web-resource to communicate science based recommendations about ecological mapping, valuation and scenario modelling to end users on the local and national level. Our web-resource will be launched in March 2012.



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