Marine Biological Valuation of the Belgian Coast


Master's Thesis, 2012

62 Pages, Grade: 18/20


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TABLE OF CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

ABSTRACT

1. INTRODUCTION
1.1 Marine Biological Valuation as a tool for spatial planning
1.1.1. Ecosystem-based Marine Spatial Planning
1.1.2. Biological valuation
1.2 Driving Forces for Marine Biological Valuation of the Belgian Coast
1.2.1 Coastal Management in Belgium
1.2.2 MESMA (EU FP72009/2013)

2. OBJECTIVES

3. MATERIAL & METHODS
3.1 Study Area
3.1.1 General Characterization
3.1.2 Definition of Coast
3.2 Biological Valuation Protocol
3.2.1 Overview
3.2.2 Subdivision of the Study Area
3.2.3 Data Collection
3.2.4 Assessment Questions
3.2.5 Algorithms and Scores
3.2.6 Reliability Index
3.2.7 Mapping and Final Scores
3.3 Applications of MBV

4. RESULTS
4.1 Objective 1: Marine Biological Valuation
4.1.1. Ecosystem Components
4.1.2. Total Biological Valuation
4.2. Objective 2: Applications of MBV

5. DISCUSSION
5.1 Objective 1: Marine Biological Valuation
5.1.1. Analysis per Ecosystem Component
5.1.2. Total Valuation
5.1.3. Reliability Index
5.2. Objective 2: Applications of MBV
5.2.1. Beach Nourishment (and Coastal Defense)
5.2.2. Nature Conservation
5.2.3. MBV as tool to EB-MSP at the Belgian coast
5.2. Future Perspectives
5.3.1. Limitations and Caveats of MBV
5.3.2. Positive aspects of MBV

6. CONCLUSIONS

REFERENCES

ANNEX I
A. Belgian Definition of Coastal Zone
B. Habitat Forming and Ecologically Significant Species
C. Algori thms for Assessment Quest ions
D. Scoring System
E. Coastal Flood Risk

ANNEX II
A. Intermediate Scores per Ecosystem Component
B. Provincial Spatial Implementation Plans
C. Full list of Species

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This research would not have been possible without the support of many people, and I hereby gratefully acknowledge my debt to them:

My supervisor, Sarah, for the care with which you reviewed my work, and for all the guidance, assistance, and conversations that clarified my thinking on this and other matters. Your friendship and professional collaboration meant a great deal to me.

Prof. Dr. Magda Vincx, for trusting me with the challenge of this thesis topic, and all the EMBC Staff in Ghent University for the practical and technical assistance provided.

Klaas Deneudt, for your advices and all the long hours spent working on (and teaching me) R. Without your help and dedication, meeting the deadline for this thesis would never have been feasible.

Nathalie De Hauwere, for always sharing your GIS expertise with me, either in person or by e-mail.

Dr. An Cliquet, Dr. Eric Stienen, Dr. Steven Degraer, and Dr. Ulrike Braeckman for your expert advice that very much enriched this work.

Guy De Smet, for your support and understanding during times of computer crisis.

My dear colleagues, Alejandro, Danae, Christoph and specially Eva, for putting up with my daily anxieties, giving back nothing but wise advice and supportive words. Your friendship has kept me through all the hard times.

I also thank my dearly loved parents, grand-parents, step-parents, and brothers, for believing in me and providing me with the emotional (and financial) support to reach another milestone in my academic life. Words cannot describe how much I love each of you. Specially you mom, don't be jealous.

Last but not least, my dear boyfriend, for your multi-task support including data treatment and endless Skype sessions. Thank you for being my best friend and making me so infinitely happy regardless of our geographic constraints.

ABSTRACT

True awareness of the great importance and vulnerability of natural spaces and resources is at the basis of innovative, holistic approaches to management such as ecosystem-based Marine Spatial Planning (EB-MSP). Under this perspective, there is an increasing need for reliable and meaningful baseline maps to provide decision-makers with straightforward information on the intrinsic biological value of a given marine/coastal area. The aims of this work are (1) to establish a spatial biological valuation of the Belgian coastal zone, using Marine Biological Valuation methods (MBV) (Derous 2007); and (2) to explore the applications of MBV for EB-MSP under different scenarios of space-use conflict at the Belgian coast (beach nourishment and nature conservation). Biological data from 1995 to 2011 on four ecosystem components (macrobenthos, epibenthos, hyperbenthos, and avifauna) have been integrated into a single database and used to perform MBV. Despite time constraints, spatial coverage and overall data availability were surprisingly satisfactory and allowed for significant trends and patterns to be observed. Results support a seaward extension of the nature reserve of "IJzermonding" in Lombardsijde beach. Detailed analysis of areas under coastal flood risk indicates that the use of MBV maps to assist management decisions at low jurisdictional levels in the Belgian coast is positively promising. Still, for an integrative approach, MBV maps should be considered along with other criteria defined within a solid decision-support system. Further research on the applications of MBV to coastal areas is still necessary to enhance the robustness of the tool and consequently strengthen its effectiveness within spatial planning strategies, towards an integrative and ecosystem-based management of coastal areas worldwide.

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1 Marine Biological Valuation as a tool for spatial planning

1.1.1. Ecosystem-based Marine Spatial Planning

As a consequence of the post-industrial demographic explosion and economic development, the diversity and intensity of anthropogenic activities impacting natural resources has escalated over the last century, threatening the balance of different ecosystems at different scales (Steadman 1995; Kerr & Currie 1995; Vitousek et al. 1997; Chapin III et al. 2000; Worm et al. 2006; Halpern et al. 2007). True awareness of the great importance and vulnerability of natural spaces and resources is at the basis of emerging management strategies centered in the holistic approach known as ecosystem-based management (EBM) (Sainsbury & Sumaila 2003; Pikitch et al. 2004; Jennings 2006; Dahl et al. 2009). Concerning the marine realm, EBM has been defined as "the comprehensive integrated management of human activities based upon the best available scientific knowledge (...), to (achieve) sustainable use of goods and services and maintenance of ecosystem integrity" (ICES 2003). Although widely discussed in scientific literature, the objectives of EBM are often perceived as conceptual, with very limited examples of actual practice (Bundy et al. 2008; Katsanevakis et al. 2011), underlining the importance of connecting EBM principles with applicable tools and more explicit management strategies (McLeod et al. 2005; Arkema et al. 2006).

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a place-based management strategy which has evolved under the EBM approach. Management strategies that are not place-based have also emerged under EBM,(Pikitch et al. 2004) but these have been predominantly developed for particular marine resources and within individual economic sectors (Laffoley et al. 2004; Douvere 2008), which fail to provide a "comprehensive integrated management of human activities", thus falling short from the ultimate goals of EBM. Additionally, EBM is inherently place-based when ecosystems are considered as places (Crowder & Norse 2008). Seen by many as an idea whose time has come (Ehler 2008; Gilliland & Laffoley 2008; Foley et al. 2010) and already implemented in a few countries on a preliminary basis (Douvere et al. 2007; Douvere & Ehler 2009), ecosystem-based MSP seeks the provision of mechanisms to attain not only consensus in sea-use management among distinct sectors operating in a particular area, but also and most importantly the maintenance of ecosystems' integrity and services through the conservation of marine biodiversity (Douvere 2008; Pomeroy & Douvere 2008; Dahl et al. 2009; Douvere & Ehler 2009). To this end, mapping biologically and ecologically important areas together with their associated human uses and political and legal arrangements has been recently emphasized as an important first step (Salomidi et al. 2012).

1.1.2. Biological valuation

By definition, biodiversity encompasses three hierarchically-related levels of biological organization: genes, species and ecosystems (Pearce & Moran 1994), ranging from compositional to structural and functional aspects (Noss 1990), which makes it a complex and abstract concept to be tackled under the scope of management. Nonetheless, the continuous loss of coastal and marine biodiversity (Hassan et al. 2005) has been recognized to increasingly undermine the ocean's capacity of providing services and maintaining resilience to stressors and changes (Worm et al. 2006), which highlights the importance of assessing and valuating biodiversity within the framework of effective management strategies, including MSP (Pascual et al. 2011). Biodiversity can be valued under several approaches and scales (Costanza et al. 1997; Oksanen 1997; El Serafy 1998; Weikard 2002; Turpie et al. 2003; Balvanera et al. 2006; Eggert & Olsson 2009; Jones-Walters & Mulder 2009; Granek et al. 2010). In fact, the objectives behind each approach are directly linked with the respective definition of the term "value" (Derous et al. 2007a). Most commonly, this is associated with the socio-economic value of ecosystems (Pearce & Moran 1994; Costanza et al. 1999), reflecting vestiges of the anthropocentric and post-Kantian ethical perspective over natural resources (Collet 2002). Under an EBM approach however, biodiversity should be valued intrinsically, independently of its potential usefulness for human beings (Wilson et al. 1988; Ghilarov 2000).

Over the last decade, spatial tools to assess biological value have been mainly developed and applied within the selection process of marine hotspots, aimed for specific conservation goals (Villa et al. 2002; Wood & Dragicevic 2006; Christensen et al. 2009; Watts et al. 2009). The present work focuses on Marine Biological Valuation (MBV) (Derous 2007; Derous et al. 2007b), a recently developed spatial tool which arose from the need for reliable and meaningful baseline maps to assist decision-makers under the principles of EBM (Derous et al. 2007c). As opposed to previous valuation tools, MBV incorporates all levels of biodiversity in the assessment of intrinsic biological value through the hierarchical ecological framework proposed by Roff & Zacharias 2000. Hitherto, MBV has been performed in different European coastal waters (Derous 2007; Forero 2007; Rego 2007; Vanden Eede 2007; Pascual et al. 2011) including the Belgian Part of the North Sea (BPNS). This work comes as a first attempt to perform a MBV of the Belgian coast, focusing at the subtidal and intertidal zones.

1.2 Driving Forces for Marine Biological Valuation of the Belgian Coast

1.2.1 Coastal Management in Belgium

Like many others, the Belgian coastal zone hosts a complex of space- and resource-use activities with a myriad of pressures impairing environmental conditions both on the coastline and on coastal waters (Kerckhof & Houziaux 2003; Willekens & Maes 2008; De Smet et al. 2010). Specifically at the beach zone, predictions on sea-level rise and flood risk for the North Sea have lead to action plans and foreseen future projects for strengthening coastal defense in Belgium (Roode et al. 2008). Among these plans, the soft engineering solution known as beach nourishment has been the most widely accepted for its expected lower ecological impacts (Greene 2002; Hamm et al. 2002; Hanson et al. 2002) and clear benefits to the tourism industry (Phillips & Jones 2006), which alone represents around 3.4% of Belgium's GDP1 (WTTC 2003). However, together with other recreational and management activities and when implemented without good ecologicalpractice (Speybroeck et al. 2006), beach nourishment potentially threatens habitats which are valuable to several beach-dependent organisms (Speybroeck 2007). This is only one of the many examples stressing the need for integrative and ecosystem-based strategies to sustainably manage ongoing space-use activities at the Belgian coast.

Sustainable management should be ideally based on the principles of sustainable development: economy, social environment, and ecology (Volckaert et al. 2007), which have been legislatively integrated in Belgium through the Law of January 20th, 1999 (Marine Protection Law). Conversely, the institutions responsible for coastal management in Belgium are highly fragmented and endowed with a legislation based on a sectoral approach (Cliquet 2001; De Ruyck et al. 2001). For instance, legal jurisdiction concerning coastal management is shared between the Flemish Government (landwards from the MLWM2 ) and the State (seawards from the MLWM). Such "multi-level government" structure (Cliquet et al. 2007) most often results in conflicting priorities and overall lack of clarity in the implementation of relevant policies at the coastal zone (Commission of the European Communities 2007). Unfortunately, the unifying legal tools to potentially tackle this issue remain missing (Belpaeme & Seys 2003) and are still emerging under European initiatives such as Integrated Coastal Zone Management (Commission of the European Communities 2007). Therefore, a scientifically sound and spatially-based biological valuation of the Belgian coast would potentially assist local decision-makers and allow for the integration of "nature" at an early stage of policy implementation, specifically through the Provincial Spatial Implementations Plans (PRUPs) (Maes & Bogaert 2008 chap. 5). For practical purposes, two main scenarios of space-use conflict at the Belgian coast will be explored in this work: beach nourishment and nature conservation. This bottom-up approach is an important step towards cross-sectoral, integrative and ecosystem-based management policies for the Belgian coast.

1.2.2 MESMA (EU FP72009/2013)

The EU FP7 MESMA Project focuses on marine spatial planning and aims to produce integrated management tools (concepts, models, and guidelines) for Monitoring, Evaluation and implementation of Spatially Managed marine Areas, based on European collaboration. MESMA tools3 include decision support systems, modeling approaches, and mapping and spatial analysis techniques such as Marine Biological Valuation. The project results will support integrated management plans for designated or proposed marine areas towards a sustainable use of European seas and coastal areas. To this end, a generic framework for implementation of EB-MSP has been recently developed (Stelzenmüller et al. 2012). It foresees collation and mapping of existing information for the different ecosystems components of a given spatially managed area. Hence, on a later stage, the conclusions of this present work may constitute a helpful insight on the wide applicability and usefulness of MBV under the framework proposed in MESMA, particularly since it constitutes the first application of this tool to a strictly coastal zone.

2. OBJECTIVES

The goals of this thesis work are two-fold: (1) to establish and analyze a spatial biological valuation of the Belgian coastal zone using MBV methods (Derous et al., 2007a); and (2) to explore the applications of MBV for an ecosystem-based approach to Marine Spatial Planning under different scenarios of space-use conflict at the Belgian coast.

3. MATERIAL & METHODS

3.1 Study Area

3.1.1 General Characterization

The Belgian coastline has an approximate extent of 67km (Fig. 1), being entirely composed of sandy beaches. The ecological continuum naturally expected on this type of ecosystem (from the intertidal zone to the foredunes) is continuously disrupted by concrete dykes implemented in almost the entirety of the coastline, as a response to coastal flood risk (Speybroeck 2007; Roode et al. 2008). Notwithstanding these, Belgian beaches should not be regarded as "biological deserts" as they are highly productive ecosystems hosting key-players specifically adapted to such dynamic physical conditions, and functioning as important resting and foraging areas for birds (Speybroeck et al. 2008). In fact, several sites under the Birds (2009/147/EC) and Habitat (92/43/EEC) Council Directives and the RAMSAR Convention have been delimited at sea as well as on land in the Belgian coast. Other areas of environmental interest have been also designated by the Flemish government over the past decades (Herrier & Van Nieuwenhuyse 2005).

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Fig. 1: Study area within the Belgian Coast. For definitions of the zonation displayed (subtidal and intertidal) see 3.2.2. The Belgian coast is delimited by the dunes of “De Westhoek” at the west (left) and the Scheldt estuary at the east.

3.1.2 Definition of Coast

A coastal zone can be defined from different perspectives and for distinct purposes. In Europe, coastal waters have been recently designated by the EU Member States and Norway following the Water Framework Directive (WFD - Article 3). Contrastingly, coastal waters in some EU Member States, including Belgium, are nationally defined based in other criteria than the ones constant in the WFD (eg.: Belpaeme & Konings 2004 see Annex I-A), and the legal implications of this conflict have been already discussed in literature (Liquete et al. 2011). For the purposes of this work, the coastal zone is defined by a seaward bondary of 1 nautical mile from the zero depth (0m) bathymetric line and a landward boundary that follows the high water mark obtained by LIDAR observations of the Belgian coast in 2011 (data provided by the Agency for Maritime and Coastal Services: Coastal division - MDK). This definition, which covers a substantially smaller area in comparison with the legal definition for coastal zone, has been chosen for practical purposes, as the focus of this work is on performing a Marine Biological Valuation (MBV) of the intertidal and infralittoral zones.

3.2 Biological Valuation Protocol

3.2.1 Overview

The protocol for MBV is summarized in Fig.2. Unlike the previous applications of the tool, the protocol here was entirely effectuated based on R, which is an open-source software for statistical computing and graphics4. The R script for MBV has been recently developed by the Flanders Institute for the Sea (VLIZ), in Oostende, Belgium (Deneudt & others in press.). Due to the fact that the protocol is flexible and subject to specific adaptations on each application, each of the steps shown in Fig. 2 will be thoroughly explained in the following subsections.

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Fig.2: Schematic representation of the protocol for Marine Biological Valuation (from Derous 2007)

3.2.2 Subdivision of the Study Area

The purpose of MBV is to provide subzones (sub regions within a target study area) with a label of their intrinsic biological value. From an EBM perspective, the most favorable approach would be to subdivide the study area based on ecological and physical meaningfulness (Laffoley et al. 2004) without compromising practicality so that comparison among subzones is still feasible (Derous 2007). Additionally, the size of each subzone will depend on a variety of factors and should be selected on a case-by-case basis (Derous et al. 2007a). Hitherto, the selection of subzones for MBV has been performed through a raster approach, which consisted of placing an equal-size-cell grid raster over the study area (Forero 2007; Vanden Eede 2007; Derous et al. 2007c; Pascual et al. 2011). This has been considered the best solution in cases where a local-scale marine habitat classification (Connor et al. 2003) fails to serve as the basis for subdivision due to data unavailability (Derous et al. 2007c).

In the case of the Belgian coast, however, the raster approach would not represent an ecologically significant subdivision of the study area. Previous research performed on an overall description of the Belgian coastal ecosystem (Speybroeck et al. 2008) suggested a zonation scheme for the coastline in Belgium, delimitating three main zones: (i) the supralittoral zone, the area above the high water line influenced by sea water, represented by embryonic dunes, the dry beach area, and the drift line; (ii) the littoral or intertidal zone, the area comprised between high water and low water lines; and (iii) the infralittoral or subtidal zone, represented by the subtidal foreshore as the seaward continuation of the beach profile until a depth of 4 meters below MLWM level. As such, the subdivision of the present study area followed this ecological zonation, focusing specifically on the intertidal and the infralittoral zones (Fig 3). However, due to data availability, it was decided that the 4m depth as outward boundary for subtidal foreshore should be replaced by a 1 nautical mile distance from the 0m depth bathymetric line. Maintaining the rationale for subdivision of the study area as proposed by Derous 2007, the width of the subzones were chosen as fixed distances of 250m for benthic components and wider distances, of 3km, for components of highly mobile species such as birds.

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Fig.3: Detail of the study area showing the zonation performed for MBV. Subzones were created using the zero depth (0m) bathymetric line and applying a seaward buffer of 1 nautical mile as seaward boundary. Landwards, the high water mark line was established as a boundary using LIDAR observation data from 2011 provided by MDK. Inside these areas, a raster of fixed width was applied, (250m or 3km). The subtidal and intertidal zones are separated by the zero (0m) bathymetric line. All steps of this procedure have been performed in ArcGIS 9.3. The grid raster was created using the ETGeoWizards® extension. Blue indicates subtidal zone whereas the intertidal is colored in beige.

3.2.3 Data Collection

Information regarding the different ecosystem components targeted was compiled and put through quality control procedures. This implied the selection of data for which the geographical coordinates, the sampling gear used and the area sampled were provided. In the cases where no coordinates were available but the sample location was known through a map or scheme, coordinates were obtained by georeferencing the images on ArcMap (ESRI ArcGIS 9.3 provided by UGent Athena). The R-script provided by VLIZ guaranteed quality control regarding species names based on the World Register of Marine Species website (WORMS4 ). The script also foresaw selection based on the life stage of organisms, as only adults are used for MBV. Finally, diversity data (number of individuals per species and per sample) was standardized into densities (ind/m2) based on the sampling area. The datasets from which this information could not be obtained were excluded from this valuation, as well as datasets from non-representative or selective sampling (eg.: exclusive seagull counts). The ecosystem components included in this MBV are: (i) the benthos, subdivided into epibenthos, hyperbenthos, and macrobenthos, and (ii) coastal/marine avifauna. Data available to Ghent University was collected and integrated into a single database (Table 1).

Table 1: References used for the integrated database per ecosystem component. Only data collected on and over soft sediment has been used.

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The choice for subdivision of the benthic community aimed at addressing benthic species with more detail, differentiating between organisms larger than 1mm in size (macrobenthos) and organisms with a size between 0.1 and 1mm (meiobenthos). Nonetheless, the data available for meiobenthos was not used in this biological valuation (see Discussion 5.1.1). Benthic organisms can also be grouped in relation to their spatial distribution: epibenthic species live on top of the sediment whereas hyperbenthic species live immediately above the sediment, being strongly dependent on it. The use of different sampling gears defines then a differentiation among (1) macrobenthic organisms - sampled with Van Veen grabs and/or quadrats; (2) epibenthic organisms - sampled with 1mm mesh size trawl nets (or pushnets) over the bottom; and (3) hyperbenthic organisms - sampled with 5mm mesh size trawl nets (or pushnets), approximately. 1m above the bottom.

3.2.4 Assessment Questions

At the core of the MBV method are the criteria used to extract information from the data collected. The assessment questions relate to the valuation criteria and to a specific organizational level of biodiversity. All ecosystem components are first valued separately by summing the scores for the used assessment questions per subzone. Based on the available biological data, the relevant assessment questions can be selected and a specific algorithm for each question will allow for a quantitative assessment during the valuation process (Derous et al. 2007c). Each of the selected assessment questions (table 2) has been attributed an equal weight in the total score.

The data available did not allow for the creation of questions at the ecosystem level, and only addresses structural properties (Table 2). The valuation criteria used were proposed by Derous 2007 (Table 3), after an extensive literature review and selection based in part on the framework for identification of Ecologically Significant and Biologically Significant Areas (DFO 2004) and expert judgment (Derous et al. 2007c). Once again, data availability did not allow for the creation of questions targeting modifying criteria, and hence only 1st order criteria were considered. The approach to "Rarity" (Derous et al. 2007c) is based on a concept adopted by the UK's review of Marine Nature Conservation and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan for marine species and habitats (Connor et al. 2003). Originally, "Aggregation" and "Fitness consequences" were considered as separate 1st order criteria. A later adaptation to the original protocol (Derous et al. 2007b), has promoted the merging of these criteria since activities making a vital contribution to the fitness of a given population or species (e.g. spawning or nursery areas) most often occur at sites where individuals of these species tend to aggregate.

Table 2: Assessment questions chosen per ecosystem component, indicating to which valuation criteria and organizational level it is pertinent to. Note that the data available relates only to structural properties at the species/population or community levels of organization.

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Habitat Forming species were selected based on expert judgment, supported by the extensive literature existent on the role of habitat forming species dwelling the Belgian coast and continental shelf (Hiittel 1990; Rasmussen et al. 1998; Callaway 2006; Rabaut et al. 2007; Hoey et al. 2008; Rabaut 2011). Ecologically Significant species were selected based on expert judgment and literature review (Van Hoey et al. 2005, 2007). A list of selected species and the rationale behind this selection can be found in Annex I-B.

Table 3: Final set of marine valuation criteria and respective definitions (Adapted from Derous et al. 2007b)

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3.2.5 Algorithms and Scores

The assessment questions for each of the ecosystem components need to be translated into mathematical algorithms (see Annex I-C). Solving these algorithms yields a numeric answer to each assessment question, corresponding to a score translated into a semiquantitative classification system of five value classes: Very Low, Low, Medium, High, and Very High biological value. If there is no data to answer a specific question for a certain subzone, this is labeled "NA". An example of the scoring process described above can be seen in Annex I-D. The scores for all the assessment questions are then added together, for each ecosystem component separately, resulting in an Intermediate Valuation Map.

3.2.6 Reliability Index

As MBV is a decision-support tool, the reliability of the assessed values for each subzone should be noted with an attached label, ideally perceptible in the final map. This label displays the amount and quality of the data used to assess the value of a certain subzone (data availability) and how many assessment questions per subzone could be answered given data availability (reliability of information). For example, when a certain question cannot be answered for one or more subzones, these subzones are scored solely on the basis of the remaining questions (the ones that could be answered), decreasing the reliability of the information. On a further level, when certain subzones lack data for one or more ecosystem components, these are valued based on the final score for the remaining ecosystem components only, being less reliable than subzones valued based on all of the ecosystem components. An example of how data availability and reliability of information has been incorporated into the protocol can be seen in Annex I-D.

3.2.7 Mapping and Final Scores

The total biological value of the subzones is determined by averaging the intermediate values (see 3.2.5) for the different ecosystem components. An example of how to perform the final scoring can be seen in Annex I-D. The results of the biological valuation are then presented on a final biological valuation map (BVM), where each subzone is assigned a color corresponding to its resulting biological value. The reliability index of each subzone can also be displayed by using different intensities of a color or different background patterns.

3.3 Applications of MBV

After a final map for the MBV of the Belgian coast was obtained, the applications of this map under two specific scenarios of space-use activities were investigated. In order to analyze the results of this MBV from a management perspective, spatial data joining was performed using the final biological valuation map and the areas of the Belgian coast covered by Provincial Spatial Implementation Plans (PRUPs). Shapefiles containing the spatial distribution of PRUPs have been kindly supplied by Davy Goethals, from the Spatial Planning Division at the West Flanders Province Administration (Dienst Ruimtelijke Planning -Provincie West- Vlaanderen). For the beach nourishment scenario, geospatial data concerning the foreseen nourishment plans along the Belgian coast are of private property of the engineering companies involved and could not be obtained. However, information regarding areas already identified as extremely vulnerable in terms of coastal flood risk (and hence highly likely of undergo coastal defense activities in the near future) has been collected and transformed into a spatial layer for analysis (see Annex I-E). For the nature conservation scenario, results were compared against existing protected areas at the Belgian coast, under European obligations (RAMSAR, Birds & Habitat Directive, and the Natura 2000 Network - Special Areas of Conservation & Special Protection Areas) and National/Flemish legislation (marine/nature reserves, and protected dunes). Data was obtained from the interactive coastal atlas of the Flemish Region (www.kustatlas.be).

4. RESULTS

4.1 Objective 1: Marine Biological Valuation

4.1.1. Ecosystem Components

Raw data and spreadsheets are provided in digital format (CD-ROM). Fig. 4 shows the Intermediate Valuation Map for the avifauna component together with data availability. Information reliability was maximal (High) for all subzones with data. For a breakdown of the total score, results per assessment question can be seen in Annex II-A1. Intermediate Valuations Maps and data availability for macrobenthos, epibenthos, and hyperbenthos can be seen in Fig. 5, 6, and 7, respectively. Results per assessment question detailing the macrobenthic component is found in Annex II-A2. Information reliability was again High for all subzones for which data was available. Information on the number of subzones with data, per ecosystem component, can be seen in Table 4.

Table 4: Number and percentage (%) of subzones with data, out of the total number of subzones created per ecosystem component and for the total Marine Biological Valuation (components combined).

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To check whether data availability is correlated with the valuation scores (meaning the amount of stations sampled per subzone is influencing the valuation scores obtained) a simple Pearson correlation between the valuation score and the data availability score was performed (Table 5).

Table 5: Pearson correlation (r), with corresponding coefficient of determination (r2) between data availability scores and valuation scores per ecosystem component.

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4.1.2. Total Biological Valuation

For better visualization, the final Biological Valuation Map (BVM) (Fig.8) is shown separately from the Reliability Index (information reliability and data availability - Fig. 9). For analysis purposes, detailed maps of some specific areas were created (Fig. 10).

4.2. Objective 2: Applications of MBV

For analysis of the beach nourishment scenario, the final BVM was spatially joined to spatial information on PRUPs and displayed along with areas under coastal flood risk. Only some areas are shown in detail (Fig. 11 to 13). The remaining maps can be found in annex (Annex II-B). Considering the nature conservation scenario, a full map displaying distinct protected areas in the Belgian coast along with the final BVM was created (Fig. 14). Again, areas discussed in detail are shown in separate maps (Fig. 15 to 18).

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Figure 4: Intermediate Valuation Map showing the Biological Valuation results for the avifauna component. Note that blank indicate subzones where no data on this component was available to perform a valuation. The highest biological value is observed for the subzone comprising the 20 De Panne (Westhoek) area of Baai van Heist. Information reliability was high for all subzones valued, meaning that all assessment questions could be answered in all subzones containing data.

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Figure 5: Intermediate Valuation Map showing the Biological Valuation results for the macrobenthos component. Note that blank indicate subzones where no data on this component was available to perform a valuation. Information reliability was high for all subzones valued, meaning that all assessment questions could be answered in all subzones containing data.

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Figure 6: Intermediate Valuation Map showing the Biological Valuation results for the epibenthos component. Note that blank indicate subzones where no data on this component was available to perform a valuation. Information reliability was high for all subzones valued, meaning that all assessment questions could be answered in all subzones containing data

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Figure 7: Intermediate Valuation Map showing the Biological Valuation results for the hyperbenthos component. Note that blank indicate subzones where no data on this component was available to perform a valuation. Information reliability was high for all subzones valued, meaning that all assessment questions could be answered in all subzones containing data.

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Fig. 8:Final Biological Valuation Map (BVM) for the Belgian coast

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Fig. 9: Final Reliability Index - Information Reliability and Data Availability for the Marine Biological Valuation of the Belgian coast.

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Fig. 10: Detailed information on the Marine Biological Value of areas located at the east side of the main harbors at the Belgian coast.

a) Zeebrugge (Baai van Heist);
b) Oostende (Oostende-east);
c) Nieuwpoort (Lombardsijde).

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Fig. 11: Detailed map with Marine Biological Valuation scores of intertidal subzones inside Provincial Spatial Implementation Plans (PRUPs). Red indicates areas under coastal flood risk. The dashed lines mark the boundaries of each PRUP.

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Fig. 12:

a) Detailed map with the Marine Biological Valuation score of intertidal subzones inside Provincial Spatial Implementation Plans (PRUPs). The dashed lines mark the boundaries of each PRUP. The green circle indicates a blank or undesignated area (Maes & Bogaert 2008). Red indicates areas under coastal food risk.
b) Detail of the final Marine Biological Valuation at Lombardsijde beach, falling inside the undesignated area (not covered by any PRUP).

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Fig. 13 Detailed map with Marine Biological Valuation scores of intertidal subzones inside Provincial Spatial Implementation Plans (PRUPs). Dashed lines mark the boundaries of each PRUP. Red indicates areas under coastal flood risk

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Fig. 14: Overview of Marine Biological Valuation scores for the Belgian coast displayed along with protected areas under national and international obligations.

SAC=Special Area of Conservation

SPAs=Special Conservation Areas

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Fig- 15: Detail 0f Marino Bmlogica, Valüation flna| score displayed along with protecte areas at the Belgian coast

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Fig. 16: Detail of Marine Biological Valuation final score displayed along with protected areas at the Belgian coast. Note that only lower scores were obtained for the subzones near "De Westhoek" (De Panne) despite its ecological importance

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Fig. 17: Detail of Marine Biological Valuation final score displayed along with protected areas at the Belgian coast. Note that the Zwin area returned an overall Medium score, whereas subzones located near Baai van Heist have higher scores.

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Fig. 18: Detail of Marine Biological Valuation final score for the beach of Lombardsijde, highlighting the nature reserve of IJzermonding. Note the high valuation scores obtained for the subtidal waters adjacent to the Lombardsijde beach, providing a visual support for the extension of the reserve seawards.

5. DISCUSSION

5.1 Objective 1: Marine Biological Valuation

5.1.1. Analysis per Ecosystem Component

In addition to the ecosystem components analyzed, usable data regarding meiobenthic community and terrestrial arthropods (insects) of the Belgian coast has also been collected. However, taxonomic identification for these datasets went only to family level, which would require special attention if considered in this protocol. Although widely discussed in literature (Balmford et al. 1996a, 1996b; Bertrand et al. 2006), higher-taxon surrogacy should still be taken with caution in conservation planning (Rodrigues & Brooks 2007), especially at considerably limited spatial scales (Prendergast & Eversham 2006). For this reason, available data on meiobenthos and insects were not included in this MBV.

Before components are analyzed in detail, it is also important to stress that a more comprehensive and integrative application of the proposed framework for MBV (eg.: incorporating extra datasets and performing the technique with the mediation of a board of experts in the ecological aspects of the Belgian beach ecosystem) would surely result in a more robust and reliable biological valuation. Hence, the valuation scores obtained here will only be discussed in a general manner, as it should not be taken as an absolute reflection of the real biological value of the Belgian coast. Despite data and time constraints, significant trends illustrate the potentialities of the tool.

a) Avifauna

The zonation performed for avifauna was based on a fixed width of 3km per subzone, as suggested in previous literature (Derous et al. 2007c; Pascual et al. 2011). Total valuation for avifauna returned one area of Very High biological value: the Flemish nature reserve of Baai van Heist (Fig.4). This was expected, as the development of the port of Zeebrugge in the 1980s created vast areas of sandy, sparsely vegetated, and relatively undisturbed coastal areas (Speybroeck et al. 2008), mimicking natural processes and attracting a great number of coastal breeders (Stienen & Van Waeyenberge 2002, 2004; Stienen et al. 2005). In fact, the distribution of species such as Sterna albifrons (Little tern) is now almost exclusively limited to Zeebrugge port and the adjacent beaches (Courtens & Stienen 2004; Stienen et al. 2005). The Very High score could be obtained even though data availability for this subzone was low (Fig. 4). Another subzone with an expected valuation score was Bredene (High). In fact, data was collected in the eastern part of Bredene (in the beach area of a vegetated dune depression - Paesteelpanne) known as an aggregation site for birds, especially gulls (Speybroeck et al. 2005a). This subzone scored High/Very High for all assessment questions (Annex II-A1), though no current literature supports the hypothesis of this being an important area for specific or rare species.

Conversely, other areas have scored lower than expected. The Zwin is one of the most important protected areas of the Belgian coast, protected under various legislations and directives (Fig. 17). Avifauna valuation for the Zwin however returned a Medium biological value. Analyzing the breakdown per assessment question (Annex II-A1), this subzone scored Very High for questions on "Aggregation-Fitness consequences" but Low or Very Low for questions related to the "Rarity" criteria, hence influencing and lowering the final score. As the ecological relevance of the Zwin is related not only to its role as a breeding/feeding/aggregation site but also to the presence of rare and "important" species (Devos 2008; Herrier & Letten 2010; Charlier 2011; BirdLife International 2012), this result indicates that the threshold percentage considered for the selection of rare species (species occurring in less than 10% of the subzones) might not be significantly capturing species that do rarely occur in the study area. This problem is further tackled in detail (see 5.3.1a). The subzone of De Panne has also scored lower than expected. This subzone hosts the Flemish reserve "De Westhoek" and protected sand dunes (Fig. 16). However, unlike the case for the Zwin, all of the assessment questions for this subzone scored Low or Very Low. This result suggests that the data analyzed is not capturing the real biological situation in De Panne.

b) Benthic Components

The datasets used for epibenthos and hyperbenthos have been incorporated into the final valuation but they are hard to discuss separately, since data availability and spatial coverage are far from satisfactory (Fig. 6 and 7, respectively). In fact, these datasets cover only around 3% of the study area (Table 5), not allowing for a detailed discussion.

For macrobenthos, some major patterns have been observed. Firstly, the mosaic-like variability of scores (Fig. 5) was expected and can be explained by the irregular and patchy distribution of sediments in the coastal zone (Ruddick et al., 1998), which combined with its diverse topography creates a wealth in habitats that supports a high capacity for varied benthic species assemblages (Van Hoey et al. 2004). Secondly, there is a clear difference in the amount of data collected to the west of Oostende if compared to the east. Information at the eastern part of the Belgian coast is much scarcer, even for areas of great ecological importance such as the reserve "Baai van Heist" or the Zwin. This is easily explained by the fact that the largest clusters of data gathered (Lombardsijde, Nieuwpoort-Bad, Bredene, Koksijde-Oostduinkerke, and Oostende) correspond to sampling campaigns under environmental assessments for beach nourishment projects, mainly located westwards. There is a clear lack of research-oriented benthic sampling at the eastern part of the Belgian coast.

Around 70% of the subtidal areas with data scored Medium, High or Very High. The breakdown of this result shows that high values were obtained mainly due to questions related with "Aggregation-Fitness consequences" (Annex II-A2). This was expected as Belgian coastal waters are known as nursery areas for a series of epibenthic macro-crustaceans and flatfish species (Rabaut et al. 2010) due to specific abiotic conditions but also to the abundance and diversity of benthic organisms (Dewicke et al. 1998). Nevertheless, for the question on ecologically significant species (QESS- Annex II-A2), higher values are mostly found in the subtidal zone, suggesting that the ESS selected (Annex I-B1) are perhaps not equally capturing communities from both ecosystems (intertidal and subtidal). Although extremely important in subtidal waters (Van Hoey et al. 2005, 2007), the emphasis given to the Abra alba community might be causing an underestimation of the overall QESS scores for subzones located in the intertidal zone.

Expected trends have been observed mainly in the area of the nature reserve "IJzermonding" (Lombardsijde beach), where high data availability supports a Very High/High score for intertidal and subtidal macrobenthos (Fig. 10c). The area is already protected under Flemish legislation as a nature reserve (Fig.18). In fact, the beach of Lombardsijde is a military territory proposed for special management plans in 2000 given its high ecological importance, acknowledged by a panel of experts (Herrier et al. 2005). Unlike the case for avifauna, subzones within the area of De Panne returned Medium/High values (Fig. 5). Still, the sparse distribution of subzones with data and the absence of subtidal information to back this result up, does not allow for significant conclusions regarding its biological value.

5.1.2. Total Valuation

Data used in this biological valuation covers almost half of the total study area (Table 4), which was surprising given the limited time frame available for data collection. One first concern with the limited amount of data led to the performance of a simple correlation test in order to check if the amount of data obtained in each subzone would be influencing its valuation score (Table 5). Although a relatively higher r2 was obtained for hyperbenthos (0.32), overall r2 values were low and show no strong correlation between the variables.

Generally, with the exception of the zones of De Panne and the Zwin, final valuation scores seem to go in accordance with what was expected (Fig. 8), as it has been discussed in the analysis per ecosystem component. The ecological importance of De Panne and the grey dunes of "De Westhoek" has been widely acknowledged in literature (Bonte et al. 2004; Provoost et al. 2004; Vandenbohede & Lebbe 2004) and the later is even a reserve considered to be properly managed from an ecological perspective (De Ruyck et al. 2001; Houston 2003), providing no support for the low scores obtained with this valuation (Fig. 16). Similarly, the Medium value obtained for the Zwin (Fig. 17) was lower than expected. However, this is strongly influenced by avifauna results which have been already discussed. The Low score for the subtidal subzone at the Zwin (Fig.17) was only valued on the basis of epi- and hyperbenthos, scoring Low and Very Low, respectively. Although little can be discussed for these components separately, previous literature suggested a decline of species richness and diversity for hyperbenthic communities under estuarine influence (Dewicke et al. 2003), which may be the case for this particular subzone, being in such proximity to the Scheldt estuary. Without a better spatial coverage of data, this remains as a mere speculative conclusion. Clearly, better datasets particularly for De Panne and the Zwin need to be incorporated in future biological valuations of the Belgian coast.

In addition to the trends previously discussed, another important pattern has been observed. High/Very High biological values are consistently found in intertidal zones located immediately to the east of prominent harbors perpendicular to the coastline (Fig 10). The major wind-driven currents and waves at the Belgian coast have a southwest-northwest direction (van der Molen & van Dijck 2000; Speybroeck et al. 2008). As a consequence, current-induced erosion causes depletion of sediments to the west of these hard structures and sediment deposition at the east side, in a kinematic process already described and commonly addressed in coastal geophysics (Deronde et al. 2004). The east side of these prominent hard-structures (also referred to as lee-side) is a sheltered area where hydrodynamics is less intense and sand deposition occurs. Hence, it creates a wealth in soft-bottom habitats and good environmental conditions for benthic colonization, which goes in accordance with the pattern observed.

5.1.3. Reliability Index

Overall, the assessment questions chosen aimed at addressing the type of data integrated in this valuation. As such, all assessment questions for all of the four components separately could be answered, and information reliability scored High in all of the subzones for which data was available. However, final information reliability was not always maximal (Fig. 9). The highest number of questions answered in a subzone was 18 but, theoretically, the highest combination possible would be 24 (6 questions for avifauna, 6 questions for hyperbenthos, 5 questions for epibenthos, and 7 questions for macrobenthos), which was not achieved in any subzone. Given this, most subzones displayed High information reliability, with only around 5% of the subzones returning a Low score (Fig 9). On the other hand, data availability is given by the number of stations sampled inside each subzone. Overall, most subzones have a Medium or High data availability (Fig.9). Reliability of information apprises the level of certainty of the obtained MBV scores, whereas data availability pinpoints subzones with more or less sampling effort, indicating where future surveys should be undertaken (Pascual et al. 2011). Hence, increasing reliability and sampling effort leads to a reduction of the subjectivity behind the final MBV scores.

5.2. Objective 2: Applications of MBV

5.2.1. Beach Nourishment (and Coastal Defense)

The level of spatial detail resulting from the size of the subzones chosen for this valuation imposed a challenge for the translation of information into a straightforward management language. The solution proposed involved spatial joining of the final valuation map with 10 delimited areas at the Belgian coast which are currently subjected to detailed spatial management (Provincial Spatial Implementation Plans - PRUPs) (Figs. 11 to 13). With this approach, the biological value within areas already covered by spatial management strategies at low jurisdictional levels could be highlighted. Areas still lacking biological valuation (in grey) but sensible to coastal flood (in red) were identified within almost all of the PRUPs. Some of these areas draw special attention (Fig. 12), as subzones with no data for biological data overlay wide stretches of areas under flood risk. This indicates the need for collecting and integrating relevant biological data from these areas to the MBV protocol, so that the appropriate measures for beach nourishment (or other costal defense solutions) can be taken under the precautionary principle (CBD 1992). Areas for which no spatial plan exists are commonly addressed as blank or undesignated areas (Maes & Bogaert 2008). Focus is given to a particular undesignated area (Lombardsijde beach, part of the nature reserve "IJzermonding" - Fig. 12) where results for biological valuation show High/Very High scores, emphasizing the need for a full-coverage extension of the PRUPs, so that this and other areas of important biological value can be legally considered under the scope of spatial management at the coast.

Other areas sensible to coastal flood and displaying High/Very High biological value were also identified (Fig. 11 & 12 and Annex II-B1), stressing the need for mitigation measures to be adopted in case beach nourishment is to be performed. The selection of the nourishment technique in respect to local natural values has been already advised as one of the critical steps for an ecologically good practice of beach nourishment (Speybroeck et al. 2006). According to the authors, other steps that should be taken particularly in areas of High/Very High value include: (1) selection of nourishment sand based on sediment composition of the targeted area (type and grain size); (2) execution of nourishment activities during periods of low beach activity of birds or other mobile organisms; and (3) favoring the selection of smaller, phased projects as opposed to one single, wide project. Other precautionary measures directed to macrobenthic invertebrates may include bulldozing to reduce significant slope changes and higher quality control of the nourishment sand to reduce the amount of exogenous particles present (such as shells) (Peterson et al. 2000). Another proposed nourishment solution in Belgium involves the implementation of parallel sandbanks along the entire coast just at the submerged foreshore. Known as foreshore nourishment (vooroever suppletie), these sandbanks constantly supply sand to the beach zone after progressive tidal regimes, and have been proven advantageous in the Dutch Wadden Sea (Misdorp & Terwindt 1997). Even though subtidal connectivity is physically facilitated by the medium and enhances the chances of pressure-driven habitat re-colonization (Günther 1992; Cummings et al. 1995), intertidal communities are indeed much more adapted to extreme environmental conditions (and sudden changes) than subtidal ones (Speybroeck et al. 2005b). This makes them relatively more resilient to anthropogenic interventions such as beach nourishment. Additionally, habitat continuity from the low intertidal zone to the foreshore allows subtidal organisms to repopulate the low intertidal zone (Degraer et al. 1999). The fact that High/Very High scores were obtained for most subtidal zones along the Belgian coast (Fig. 8) indicates the need for caution with the implementation of coastal defense measures such as foreshore nourishment. These results highlight the potential usefulness of Biological Valuation Maps to coastal and marine spatial planning in Belgium, particularly if considered under a solid decision-support system (Fig. 19).

5.2.2. Nature Conservation

The MBV protocol has already achieved good results when tested as a tool for the implementation of the Habitats and Birds Directives or Marine Strategy Directives proposed at the BPNS (Derous 2007). Furthermore, the successful use of the framework for MBV to assess the ecological quality status of waters, under the European Water Framework Directive, has also been recently investigated (Pascual et al. 2011). The final Biological Valuation Map was displayed along with the main protected areas at the Belgian coast (Fig. 14). As expected, some subzones with High/Very High value both in the subtidal and intertidal zone coincide with protected areas (Fig. 15). Areas already protected by several national and international legislations for which the MBV scores were lower than expected can be seen in detail on Fig 16 and 17 and have been already discussed in the previous sections.

The aim of this analysis, however, is to stress the usefulness of MBV as support tool to the proposal of new (or the extension of already existenting) protected areas. To this end, focus will be given to the intertidal and subtidal areas located at the Lombardsijde beach, east of the IJzer estuary (Fig. 18). The beach of Lombardsijde was designated as a Flemish nature reserve in 1999 (Derous 2005) along with the eastern margin of the IJzer estuary. This was mainly due to the existence of tidal mudflats along this area, which are created by sediment deposition in low energy coastal environments and correspond to habitats of both ecological and economic importance (De Backer et al. 2010). The designation of marine reserves adjacent to protected beaches has been already acknowledged as of uttermost importance to a successful and ecologically justified implementation of beach reserves (Herrier 2002). In this particular case, the Very High scores obtained at the subtidal subzones of Lombardsijde beach justify and underline the ecological importance of extending the beach reserve seawards (Fig.18). The creation of a marine reserve adjacent to the Lombardsijde beach has been already proposed in the past (Van Nieuwenhuyse 2003) and the results of this work stress the ecological importance of this extension, providing a straightforward and visual message to support this advice. Ultimately, the selection of priority areas for conservation is a political decision, and Biological Valuation Maps can be used as a basis for this selection if considered along with different criteria (Fig. 19), under an integrative decision-support system (Derous et al. 2007c).

5.2.3. MBV as tool to EB-MSP at the Belgian coast

The utility of ecosystem-based definitions and strategies ultimately depends upon whether or not they are able to inform management actions based on an intrinsic assessment of biological value. (Arkema et al. 2006). Considering this, and given the spatial basis of MBV, the results shown in this work indicate that MBV can be a valuable tool within the scope of EB-MSP. Additionally, the simplistic nature of the Biological Valuation Maps (BVM) permits informing management decisions at a level that is closer to stakeholders, significantly attenuating conflicts and enabling a transparent involvement. Stakeholders' involvement has been already acknowledged as a pivotal step within Marine Spatial Planning (Pomeroy & Douvere 2008; Fleming & Jones 2012). Thus, the effectiveness of BVM to EB-MSP at the Belgian coast seems to be positively promising. Still, BVM should be further considered together with other criteria related to socio-economic and political/legal arrangements within an integrative decision-support system for spatial planning. The integration of MBV into a possible system was already proposed by Derous et al. 2007c (Fig. 19).

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Fig. 19: Overview of the concept for Marine Biological Valuation and possible future steps to develop decision-support tools. Adapted from Derous et al 2007c.

5.2. Future Perspectives

5.3.1. Limitations and Caveats of MBV

The protocol followed in this work reflects the reasoning behind the development of the MBV tool, and no fundamental changes to the original assessment questions and concept definitions (Derous 2007) have been undertaken. Few limitations of this protocol, that can compromise its future applicability, have been observed.

a) Species Richness

When first applied to the BPNS, species richness per subzone was not considered a realistic representation unless differences in sampling effort were corrected, which has been long recognized as an important bias for this indicator (Magurran 2004; Walther & Moore 2005). Such correction was performed by applying a logistic regression analysis in which besides sampling effort (in terms of area surveyed), the distance to the coast and mean depth were also taken into account (Derous et al. 2007c). These two factors were included due to a strong correlation with species richness, detected by the authors. However, the protocol used here did not yet foresee for such correction, especially since "distance to coast" and "mean depth" would be irrelevant factors to be considered. It would have been necessary to perform further analyses to better understand the factors influencing species richness in the case of the Belgian coast, which could never have been achieved here due to time constraints. As a result, species richness is not being properly assessed. Since the results from the question on high species richness (QHSR) for each ecosystem component do not seem to be contributing for a significant variation of the total biological value assessed, it has been kept as a valid question for this MBV. Nevertheless, it is strongly suggested that a correction for sampling effort differences among subzones is applied when calculating questions related to species richness in future applications.

b) Rare species

The relationship between the spatial coverage of data gathered and the size/number of subzones established strongly influences the selection for rare species in this MBV protocol. By definition (Derous 2007), rare species in MBV are defined as species appearing in less than 5% of the studied subzones, but this can be changed if properly justified. Initially, the protocol used in this thesis work was based on the same threshold for rarity. However, only a limited number of subzones per ecosystem component actually had data (Table 4), with the exception of the macrobenthic component. This resulted in a conflict within the selection of rare species, as rarity thresholds smaller than 10% were automatically returning areas equal to a fraction of a subzone (less than one subzone itself), causing errors in the calculation of the score. This can be seen as a rather simple technical constraint of the protocol and, if discovered earlier, could have been properly fixed by simply changing the calculation steps in R or changing the approach to the selection of rare species (Pascual et al. 2011). Clearly, further attention regarding this matter is fundamental to the successful improvement of the MBV protocol.

5.3.2. Positive aspects of MBV

Even though important limitations and caveats concerning the applicability of this tool have been identified, positive aspects have also been observed and the main ones are hereafter discussed in detail:

a) R protocol

Prior to this adaption to R, the protocol for MBV included a series of complicated and time-consuming steps performed in different software for data management, data analysis and GIS. Compacting all these steps into one unique script in R language enabled an open-source application of this tool and transformed it into a more effective, transparent and simple methodology. Although it requires technical expertise, R is easy to organize, communicate operations, re-use, adapt, and built upon. This work constituted the first official application of the R script for MBV. The first main adaptations and corrections of small technical aspects were performed, perfecting the protocol for future applications.

b) Hierarchical framework for biodiversity and integration of data

When valuing marine biodiversity, it is important to capture as many attributes of biodiversity as possible, since biological structures and processes exist on different organizational levels (genes, species, population, community, and ecosystem) (Zacharias & Roff 2001a, 2001b). Even though in this work the data available only addressed biological structures at the species/population and community levels, larger and more comprehensive datasets would eventually allow for the incorporation of all levels of biodiversity. In fact, on the last workshop for Marine Biological Valuation (Gent, April 2012), one of the topics discussed was related to the application (and corresponding adaptations) of this tool to studies on genetics and population dynamics of the Atlantic Bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), identifying areas of high biological importance. Furthermore, the MBV protocol also allows for the formulation and selection of different assessment questions (based on the ecological knowledge of the study area) and the inclusion of data regarding biological processes and functions (eg.: the presence of migratory routes and upwelling sites or overall productivity of a subzone), leading to more ecologically meaningful results. Additionally, incorporating data on beach meiofauna, terrestrial arthropods and vascular plants located at the dry beach (which was originally intended in this work) would permit a more integrative and sound valuation of the coastal zone, addressing the beach ecosystem as a continuum from subtidal waters to the foredunes. Limitations on data coverage can be overcome by mapping biophysical characteristics (Young et al. 2007) and subsequent habitat modeling based on, for example, grain size (Van Hoey et al. 2004; Degraer et al. 2008), resulting in a sound extrapolation of data to subzones not yet sampled.

6. CONCLUSIONS

This work showed that the application of the MBV framework to the Belgian coast was feasible and required minor adjustments. Nonetheless, it is important to stress that a more comprehensive and integrative MBV, incorporating extra datasets and performed with the mediation of a board of experts in the ecological aspects of the Belgian beach ecosystem, would surely result in a more robust and reliable biological valuation. Despite time constrains for data gathering, spatial coverage and overall data availability were surprisingly satisfactory and allowed for significant trends and patterns to be observed. Although the Belgian coast is entirely composed by sandy beaches, there is indeed biological diversity among distinct subzones along the coast and its intrinsic value need to be properly assessed and taken into account. The simplistic nature of MBV maps was evidenced in the analysis of the beach nourishment scenario. Spatial information on the intrinsic biological value of a given subzone within areas covered by Provincial Spatial Implementation Plans (PRUPs) was presented in a straightforward manner, potentially enabling stakeholder's involvement. Similarly, MBV maps provided a strong visual support to the proposal for extension already existing reserves. In both cases however, MBV maps should be used along with other criteria defined within a sound decision-support system for spatial planning, as the one proposed by Derous et al 2007c. Important limitations to the applicability of this MBV protocol have been identified, mostly related to the threshold for selection of rare species and the approach to calculating species richness. Notwithstanding these, the highlighted positive aspects of MBV strongly suggest that the potentialities of this integrative tool should not be underestimated. Further research on the applications of MBV to coastal areas is still required to perfect and fine-tune the tool, enhancing the robustness of its results and consequently strengthening its application within spatial management strategies towards an integrative, ecosystem-based management of coastal areas worldwide.

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ANNEX I

A. Belgian Definition of Coastal Zone

A 1: The national definition of coastal zone in Belgium, represented by the orange line. It integrates 12 nautical miles on the seaward boundary and the polders region landwards, which is mainly used for agriculture (from Belpaeme & Konings 2004 in Willekens & Maes 2008 pp. 5).

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B. Habitat Forming and Ecologically Significant Species

B1: Basis for selection of species as Habitat-Forming or Ecologically Significant, and species selected per ecosystem component with corresponding Aphia ID (WORMS). Criteria for selection are represented by the number code given below.

1= Top predators (for benthos only);
2= Important food source;
3= Species present in Conservations lists (IUCN Red List, Bird Directive Annex I, Bern Convention, Belgian Birds Red List)
4= Species most exclusively linked to the presence of L. conchilega
5= Most important species of the A. alba community;
6= Coastal birds occurring in more than 1% along the Belgian Coast

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C. Algori thms for Assessment Quest ions

C1: Algorithms used to apply the assessment questions for the different ecosystem components. If there are no data available for a certain subzone within a study area, this subzone is labeled NA and is not incorporated when the algorithm is applied (Adapted from Derous et al., 2007b). All of these calculation steps were incorporated into the R script.

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D. Scoring System

D1: Example of the proposed scoring system for a hypothetical study area with 6 subzones and 2 ecosystem components, with 1st order criteria questions only. The individual scores for every criterion and the data availability levels are also hypothetical and only used to illustrate the scoring process. When no biological data is available for certain subzones this is indicated by NA (Adapted from Derous et al 2007b).

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D2: Classification of Intermediate Value for Avifauna into 5 classes. Both the raw equations and the calculations for hypothetical example data (D1) are given.

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D3: Classification of Intermediate Value for Macrobenthos into 5 classes. Both the raw equations and the calculations for hypothetical example (D1) are given.

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D4: Determination of the Total Value using the numerical equivalents of the Intermediate Values.

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D5: Determination of information reliability per subzone and classification into 3 classes.

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E. Coastal Flood Risk

E1: Map displaying areas of high coastal flood risk (in red) at the Belgian coast. This information has been translated into a shapefile in ArcGIS for analysis. Source: http://www.coastalatlas.be/download/?table=theme_graphic&id=158 (May 15th, 2012).

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ANNEX II

A. Intermediate Scores per Ecosystem Component

A1: Results of each assessment question for avifauna.

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A1: (Cont.) Results of each assessment question for avifauna

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A2: Results of each assessment question for macrobenthos

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A2: (Cont.) Results of each assessment question for macrobenthos

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B. Provincial Spatial Implementation Plans

B1: Sections of the Belgian coast displaying Marine Biological Valuation of the intertidal zone within PRUPs that were not discussed in detail.

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C. Full list of Species

C1: Total Species List for Avifauna

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C2: Total Species List for Epibenthos

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C3: Total Species List for Hyperbenthos

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C3 : (Cont.) Total Species List for Hyperbenthos

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C4: Total Species List for Macrobenthos

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C4: (Cont.) Total Species List for Macrobenthos

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[...]


1 Gross Domestic Product: market value of all officially recognized final goods and services produced within a country in a given period (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_Domestic_Product on May, 10th 2012)

2 MLWM: Mean Low Water Mark or Mean Low Tidal Mark as established in the official cartography of Belgium (Act establishing the breadth of the territorial sea of Belgium, 6 October 1987).

3 http://publicwiki.deltares.nl/display/MESMA/TOOLS

4 www.mannespecies.org

5 www.marinespecies.org

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Details

Title
Marine Biological Valuation of the Belgian Coast
Course
European Master Programme in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation
Grade
18/20
Author
Year
2012
Pages
62
Catalog Number
V264249
ISBN (Book)
9783656536734
File size
5652 KB
Language
English
Tags
marine, biological, valuation, belgian, coast
Quote paper
Lia Laporta (Author), 2012, Marine Biological Valuation of the Belgian Coast, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/264249

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