Friday, 3 May 2013

Marine Biodiversity Offsetting: Is our marine data up to the challenge?

A report1 commissioned by the Crown Estates in the UK, has scoped the potential for adopting biodiversity offsetting within the UK marine environment. But even in such a well studied place as the UK, is the available data up to the challenge?

The scoping report1 specifically identifies a number of key issues and challenges which would need to be addressed to successfully establish biodiversity offsetting in the UK marine environment. One challenge being to overcome the availability of accurate and recent biodiversity information. Specifically it is the relationships between biodiversity and physical environment (i.e. biotope mapping) and at a finer scale the need for biodiversity community and ecosystem relationships. Although some mapping and data exists, this is a mixture of known and extrapolated information at the broader scale.

Coincidentally, a research article2 looked at a ‘Decadal view of biodiversity informatics: challenges and priorities’. This study looked at the continued development of this field in facilitating decision making (e.g. policy, environmental change, land-use and ecosystem services). It came up with twelve recommendations for the next decade, essentially moving towards a biodiversity systems approach to our understanding.

If biodiversity offsetting in the marine environment is to be successfully implemented (i.e. the creation of long term viable offsets), then surely biodiversity informatics must play a vital role. Specifically by helping to capture the complexity of life and its relationships on a system rather than individual level.

However, we would not be in a position to contemplate biodiversity offsetting at this stage without the progress made by the informatics community during the past decade. Huge strides have been made in creating taxonomic, metadata and semantic frameworks and infrastructure with which to facilitate sharing of accurate and quality data. Although as the research article2 suggests there is a need to tackle not only new data, but also increasing use of existing technologies and then exploiting technologies in novel ways.

In the short term it appears from at least the data point of view, there are still some challenges to address in successfully applying biodiversity offsetting in the UK marine environment. It is only through undertaking such scoping1 and broad scale assessments2 that we can begin to join the pieces of the jigsaw together and ensure efficiency in achieving the best outcomes. We just need to make sure that someone is actually putting the jigsaw together.



NOAA's National Ocean Service Flickr Photos ( - Attribution 2.0 Generic Creative Commons Licence

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