Ecosystem approach and strengthening SPI

The Ecosystem Approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way, as stated by Convention of Biological Diversity.

In 2008, the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention agreed to progressively apply the Ecosystem Approach to the management of human activities in the Mediterranean region to better protect the marine and coastal environments, and adopted a roadmap for its implementation.

Building a Science-Policy Interface (SPI) for IMAP

To enable the implementation of the EcAp process and in particular of IMAP, it appears crucial to bridge existing gaps between the scientific and policy making spheres. Therefore, one of the key activities of the second phase of EcAp, the EcAp MED II project 2015-2018 supported by the European Union, focuses on the strengthening of the interface between science and policy. Plan Bleu, UN Environment / MAP Regional Activity Center was mandated to coordinate this activity.

An inception workshop on SPI was organized on 15-16 December 2015 (in Sophia Antipolis, France), bringing together key stakeholders (scientists and decision makers/managers) to frame SPI activities and to discuss the implementation of SPI activities for IMAP. Decision makers are the ones in charge of the development of environmental/marine policies and practitioners/managers are the ones following the implementation of environmental/marine policies.

Some scientists participating in the workshop were involved in research projects dealing with the marine environment and others represented international institutions. Decision makers/managers were designated by Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention.

During this workshop, a first set of around 15 key cross-cutting and topic-specific knowledge gaps for the implementation of IMAP was identified along with proposed actions to address these gaps.

In 2016 and 2017, successive SPI workshops (2 thematic and 2 transversal workshops; Graph 1) were organized subsequently back to back with Correspondence Group On monitoring (CORMON) since those offered the opportunity to bring together environmental policy-makers and marine scientists and allowed to collaborate in identifying scientific gaps in programs that contribute to achieving the GES and seek solutions to fill them.

The four workshops also supported scientists and policy-makers to define or structure monitoring programs, in line with EcAp Roadmap step 6 at national level. Those workshops were the opportunity to exchange best practices. Finally, one of the main objectives of SPI workshops was to assess the extent to which SPI could help to develop, structure and organize existing national monitoring programs and networks and to develop new ones, e.g. on risk-based approach (RBA) to monitoring and assessment.

Under the umbrella of reinforcing SPI in the implementation of IMAP and EcAp to facilitate and enhance monitoring and assessment of the status of the Mediterranean Sea, two underlying transversal issues have been thoroughly addressed: on Risk-based Approach (RBA) and on temporal and geographic scales.

The challenge of strengthening SPIs in the framework of IMAP

A prerequisite for the successful implementation of IMAP and the design of national monitoring programmes following the ecosystem approach is bridging the existing gaps between the scientific and policy-making spheres. SPI is considered as one of the key activities of the EcAp-MED II project (2015-2018) under the coordination of Plan Bleu. The strengthening of SPI operates bi-directionally by ensuring that:

  1. outcomes of ongoing scientific projects resulting in data collection are reflected in the design and implementation of country-specific and regional EcAp monitoring programmes and plans;
  2. the policy process supports the articulation of policy challenges in relation to monitoring where scientific input is necessary.

Through this process, policy-making and scientific communities are made aware of mutual needs and challenges to develop efficient sub-regional and regional monitoring policies. The need for channelling new scientific guidance into the policy process and ensuring the efficient use of scientific outcomes and existing knowledge in a rapid manner presents a specific challenge for the region due to non-equal capacities among Mediterranean countries.

Plan Bleu methodological support for the SPI activities undertaken

The method

The method used to identify scientific research needs that could support the full implementation of IMAP has been adapted from the methodology used by the EU FP7 STAGES project, in particular for a workshop on the identification of specific research needs as part of the implementation of monitoring programs to implement the EU MSFD.

To prepare for the SPI workshops, Plan Bleu identified cross-cutting issues and preliminary information gaps based on the following documents: the Decision IG.22/7 “Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme of the Mediterranean Sea and Coast and Related Assessment Criteria” and the Draft Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Guidance (2015). A preliminary analysis of ongoing research projects over the period (2015-2017) was also conducted.

Thematic SPI workshops, gathering scientists and technical representatives of the relevant ministries by thematic clusters, further analysed the main gaps and scientific research needs for the compliance of the national monitoring systems with the requirements of the IMAP Decision. Scientists and decision makers/managers also agreed on some shared recommendations to fill the identified gaps.

Sections in the reference documents mentioning needs for further developments for the future implementation of IMAP were identified. Each selected section was then analysed to identify the relevant EcAp Ecological Objective (EO), or cross cutting scientific issues addressing several EO (e.g. scale issues) and formulate a need for scientific action.

These needs were synthetized and sorted according to main thematic challenges (Cross cutting issues, EcAp EOs) in a table displaying the following information:

  • Need formulation,
  • Proposed action to address this need,
  • Scope or typology of the action,
  • Level or scale of the action (local, national, regional),
  • Estimated duration of the action: Short (less than 2 years) Medium (2-4 years), Long (more than 4 years),
  • Opportunities: outputs of research projects, partnership with UNEP/MAP, availability of resources.

From SPI thematic and transversal workshops to SPI key recommendations

For most of EcAp's ecological objectives, the categorization of research needs for the implementation of IMAP and the corresponding scientific actions to fill identified gaps were discussed during thematic workshops organized around three thematic clusters in 2016 and 2017.

Building on the proposals formulated during these workshops, by scientists and the technical representatives of the ministries concerned (referred to here as “decision makers”), it has been possible to identify and structure recommendations to ensure that the knowledge produced by scientists contributes to the operational implementation of IMAP.

The workshops opened up perspectives to develop SPI for IMAP, namely by pointing out the need to formalize SPI along with dedicated structures and processes and to identify resources to support SPI. Scientists and decision makers convened to workshops have made it clear that the limits or absence of current SPI is a real issue for a full implementation of IMAP.

More information : Ecap Initiative

Contact : Antoine Lafitte

The Risk Based approach for coastal and marine monitoring

The RBA presents a pragmatic approach allowing for the prioritisation of monitoring strategies and assessment, thereby managing large scales and keeping monitoring requirements practicable. It is an overarching principle of IMAP representing a method for joined-up thinking across scientists, managers and decision-makers. The RBA allows for considering variations in scales of monitoring, reporting and assessment, as well as areas of high pressures and vulnerability. In designing monitoring programmes, it is necessary to identify components and locations likely to be at most risk of impact from human activities. For each component, the risk of impact needs to be assessed in terms of intensity, frequency and geographical extent of pressures. RBA is particularly relevant to EOs that are spatially patchy and where pressures are applied at specific locations, such as EO7.

The definition of geographical and temporal scales for monitoring and assessment

The definition of scales depends on the variability and predictability of the phenomena to be monitored; the greater the variability and unpredictability, the finer the scales must be to provide reliable results. The selection of scales has a direct consequence on the cost of monitoring; in general, the finer the scales, the higher cost, but also the higher the quality of the results. The objective is to find the right compromise between reasonable costs and acceptable level of robustness and reliability of assessments based on monitoring that provide relevant information for establishing appropriate programs of measures. It should be noted that monitoring scales and assessment scales are interlinked, yet distinct. Assessment scales define the scale at which GES is evaluated as (not) achieved for each specified element. This is the result of a process that draws from and aggregates monitoring data that is often collected at finer spatial and temporal scales. The concept of “scales” reflects the necessity to clearly define the different scales of the integrated monitoring, and assessment actions, using a “nested approach”.

The first results / general comments obtained in 2015

The inception workshop reached the following conclusions:

  • A recognized lack of knowledge. The workshop acknowledges that scientists are not in all areas currently able to provide necessary knowledge to policymakers to support the goal of achieving GES. Participants also recognize that additional efforts for identification, hierarchizing and synthesis of knowledge gaps are currently required.
  • Heterogeneous spatial distribution of knowledge availability. Knowledge availability differs along Contracting Parties. Generally, a gap between Northern and Southern Mediterranean countries can impact the robustness of regional Mediterranean models and knowledge.
  • Monitoring versus obtaining new knowledge. Workshop participants point out the difference between routine activity with the purpose of monitoring and scientific activities for obtaining new original knowledge. Furthermore, if new knowledge is considered GES relevant, a sustainable monitoring process should be developed.
  • Scientific results to inform different processes. Scientific research results produced need to be suitable to cater different purposes integrated in IMAP: (i) monitoring, (ii) integrated environmental assessment and (iii) IMAP further revisions.
  • “Ecosystem functioning” approach. Workshop participants consider that currently available knowledge on the functioning of Mediterranean marine and coastal ecosystems is still lacking, although they also acknowledge that the mobilization around EcAp and the MSFD has so far succeeded in developing new knowledge.

Transversal issues identified in 2015:

  • Mapping results. Outputs of the integrated assessments should be mapped under a GIS for a better understanding of environmental processes.
  • Cost-benefit analysis. Workshop participants bring forward the interest of conducting cost-benefit analyses of monitoring.
  • Scales. Relevant scales and timelines for the integrated assessment need to be clearly defined.
  • Aggregation rules. Aggregation rules for the results of monitoring if the GES has been achieved or not need to be clarified.
  • Guidelines for risk-based approach. IMAP document recommends applying a risk-based approach for the definition of monitoring procedures. The workshop approves this recommendation but calls for the development of guidelines to apply such an approach.
  • Empowerment of national task forces. It is recommended to develop a mechanism for expertise and capacity building aiming at establishing operational national task forces to support IMAP.
  • Filling knowledge gaps with remote sensing. Results of remote sensing should be used to for monitor physical elements, especially to establish baseline data for coast and hydrography issues, where no field data is available. However, in some cases, more detailed data will require field work.


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