What is an EBSA?
The term ‘EBSA’ is an acronym that stands for Ecologically or Biologically Significant Area. An EBSA is a particular place in the sea that is officially recognised for having a high ecological or biological value.
How is an EBSA conceived?
Experts in local, regional and global marine ecology (including marine scientists, data holders and those with local indigenous traditional knowledge), as well as experts in nature conservation and marine spatial planning, convene during dedicated regional workshops organised by the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) secretariat. During those workshops, areas of the sea are identified that are considered to have a high ecological or biological value. Each identified area is formally assessed against seven scientific criteria that were agreed upon at the Expert Workshop on Ecological Criteria and Biogeographic Classification Systems for Marine Areas in Need of Protection (held in the Azores in 2007 – click here to download the workshop report). If an area meets at least one of those criteria, it is proposed for consideration as an EBSA. An EBSA proposal takes the form of a completed standardised pro forma in which the scientific evidence that supports the assessment against the seven scientific criteria is presented.
Regional workshops are a scientific and technical exercise focusing solely on scientific information. They do not address, assess or prescribe any specific management measures or approaches.
Who decides that an area is an EBSA?
Areas described and proposed by the regional workshops as candidate EBSAs are submitted to the Subsidiary Body of Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) and to the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the CBD for review. Once reviewed and considered by these CBD bodies, their recommendation on whether to recognise an area as an EBSA, or not, is submitted to the United Nations General Assembly and its relevant processes. A candidate EBSA proposed, recommended and approved through this process becomes an EBSA once it has been ‘identified’ by the CBD.
What is GOBI’s role in the EBSA description process?
Scientists from the various GOBI partners across the world have provided strategic, overarching input to the CBD’s EBSA process, by participating in all of the regional workshops and providing consistent intellectual and technical support to the attending local experts. A number of GOBI partners are also represented on the CBD’s SBSTTA and at the CBD COP.
Are EBSAs marine protected areas (MPAs)?
EBSAs are neither MPAs nor necessarily precursors of MPAs. EBSAs may, however, be used in a variety of management systems, not all of them exclusively area-based. According to IUCN’s definition, a protected area is “a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”. Protected areas can therefore be seen as a tool for management purposes. EBSAs, on the other hand, are important marine areas in terms of the ecological and biological processes that take place within them, and are described based on scientific criteria adopted by the CBD. While many EBSAs will require protection, the management of these areas and their possible designation as MPAs remains in the hands of the relevant competent authorities.
Is the description of EBSAs limited to areas outside of countries’ national water boundaries?
The CBD scientific criteria and methodologies developed for the description of EBSAs can be applied both within and beyond areas of national jurisdiction. The Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative focuses on the open ocean and deep seas, areas that are known in law as the high seas (i.e. areas beyond national jurisdiction). That said, the marine environment is very dynamic and many species are highly mobile, therefore there are ecological connections between areas within and beyond national jurisdictions. It is very likely that some EBSAs will cut across jurisdiction boundaries.
Does GOBI address management options for EBSAs?
No. As a scientific entity, GOBI’s attention is focused solely on the science behind the description of EBSAs. The use of EBSAs for enhanced management corresponds to responsible management organisations or authorities, such as regional fisheries management organisations, regional seas organisations, the International Seabed Authority, or the International Maritime Organization.
Are there networks of EBSAs proposed?
As EBSAs begin to be identified, it becomes possible to address the design of management systems or networks that use several EBSAs for the effective attainment of large-scale and long-term conservation and resource sustainability goals. Guidance for establishing representative networks or management systems using EBSAs, MPAs, as well as other non-area based management instruments are under development. GOBI partners are key participants in such developments.
How can EBSAs with defined boundaries account for variability in the marine environment?
The distribution of marine species depends on physical, chemical and biological parameters that can change seasonally, yearly or follow longer climatic cycles. Many ocean-dwelling species are highly migratory, the migrations of some being more regular and predictable than of others. The extrapolation and modelling of species distribution data are used to predict likely variations across seasons and years. Such variability has been taken into account in the description, delineation and identification of several EBSAs, and in one instance, precise EBSA boundaries have not been defined, to enable the area to shift in space and time with the distribution of the biologically important feature it is intended to support.
How are the CBD scientific criteria applied with depth?
Depth is implicitly taken into account in the network level criteria. The benthic (seabed) and pelagic (water column) systems are considered both separately and as an interacting system during the EBSA description process. However, due to practical reasons and for purposes of simpler management, regulatory authorities often collapse this complexity and choose to treat the water column and the seabed together.
How is predicted climate change addressed by the EBSA process?
Climate change predictions are likely to affect the physical and chemical dynamics of the marine environment and may lead to alterations in the distribution of species. Modelling species distributions under potential future climate scenarios provides a good way of predicting such shifts and thereby helps to predict the utility of EBSAs into the future. Looking at the possible effects of climate change on EBSAs is particularly important when considering management options.
Are human impacts considered in the description of EBSAs?
Although human activities are affecting and impacting many natural systems in the ocean, therefore influencing ecological and biological observations, the EBSA description process does not focus directly on the effects of specific human activities. Some of the EBSA criteria, such as naturalness and vulnerability, require taking human impacts into account in their application.
How are EBSAs described in areas that are data-poor?
Currently available data and methodologies are sufficient to begin the description of some EBSAs. Some data gaps can be addressed by using tested proxies, models and statistical sampling. A lack of information should not be used as a reason to defer actions to apply the CBD criteria to the best information that is available. The application of the CBD criteria must be reviewed periodically, as new information becomes available. It is GOBI’s role to facilitate the international coordination and collaboration of scientific research efforts, including focused regional work and developing expert advisory processes.
Who is responsible for the quality of the data used in the EBSA process?
The initial quality of the data comes from the scientists who generated and provided the data to the process. Further data can be obtained from the data holdings of major recognised data repositories, whose records are checked upon submission to ensure their quality. A metadata Task Group is appointed as necessary at EBSA regional workshops to select the best available data to undertake the EBSA process.
How are scientific datasets obtained?
Various recognised data repositories exist where scientific data are archived and their sources traceable through standardised metadata, for example, the NASA Global Change Master Directory and the Ocean Biogeographic Information System. From these repositories, data can be obtained and used at the nominal cost of retrieving the data. A wide variety of tools are freely available to retrieve and process data.
Would data from the fishing industry be useful for the EBSA process?
There are different types of data generated by the fishing industry, not all of them relevant to the process of describing EBSAs. Standard trawl surveys, acoustic surveys as well as mark and recapture of fish populations can offer precise and accurate estimates of the abundance of fish or other target species at a given locality. However, catch or landings data, the most abundant type of data regularly collected and published, are less amenable for scientific use.
Why should capacity building be targeted towards the conservation of resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction?
Marine areas beyond national jurisdiction are a shared natural resource and heritage for humanity; it is necessary that nations work together to care for and manage these areas sustainably. This requires all types of capacity including human resources, technological equipment, ship time, oceanographic expertise, etc. Some nations have advantages in certain aspects of this while others are more adept at other capacities. Thus, there is a need to build and share these capacities across regions, oceans and hemispheres.
How does GOBI contribute towards capacity building?
GOBI has created a range of resources that can contribute to building capacity, such as the development of an informative website, a newsletter with articles and features on relevant matters and progress, a guidance document, and mapping tools. GOBI is planning regional workshops and toolkits to ensure that government organisations, regional bodies and scientific institutions have access to knowledge, tools and each other. In addition, GOBI is building increased access to available datasets.