Overview of integrative assessment of marine systems : the ecosystem approach in practice

Borja, Angel; Elliott, M. (Michael), 1952 November 3-; Andersen, Jesper (Jesper H.); Berg, Torsten; Carstensen, Jacob, 1966-; Halpern, Benjamin S.; Heiskanen, Anna-Stiina; Korpinen, Samuli; Lowndes, Julia S. Stewart; Martin, Georg (Marine biologist); Rodríguez-Ezpeleta, Naiara

Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies
Assessment; Integration; Status; Health; Indicators; Ecosystem approach; Science-based communication

Journal article

© 2016 Borja, Elliott, Andersen, Berg, Carstensen, Halpern, Heiskanen, Korpinen, Lowndes, Martin and Rodriguez-Ezpeleta. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

Traditional and emerging human activities are increasingly putting pressures on marine ecosystems and impacting their ability to sustain ecological and human communities. To evaluate the health status of marine ecosystems we need a science-based, integrated Ecosystem Approach, that incorporates knowledge of ecosystem function and services provided that can be used to track how management decisions change the health of marine ecosystems. Although many methods have been developed to assess the status of single components of the ecosystem, few exist for assessing multiple ecosystem components in a holistic way. To undertake such an integrative assessment, it is necessary to understand the response of marine systems to human pressures. Hence, innovative monitoring is needed to obtain data to determine the health of large marine areas, and in an holistic way. Here we review five existing methods that address both of these needs (monitoring and assessment): the Ecosystem Health Assessment Tool; a method for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in the Bay of Biscay; the Ocean Health Index (OHI); the Marine Biodiversity Assessment Tool, and the Nested Environmental status Assessment Tool. We have highlighted their main characteristics and analyzing their commonalities and differences, in terms of: use of the Ecosystem Approach; inclusion of multiple components in the assessment; use of reference conditions; use of integrative assessments; use of a range of values to capture the status; weighting ecosystem components when integrating; determine the uncertainty; ensure spatial and temporal comparability; use of robust monitoring approaches, and address pressures and impacts. Ultimately, for any ecosystem assessment to be effective it needs to be: transparent and repeatable and, in order to inform marine management, the results should be easy to communicate to wide audiences, including scientists, managers, and policymakers.

The University of Hull
Peer reviewed
3 MB


Journal title
Frontiers in marine science
Publication date
Frontiers Media
ISSN (Electronic)

Copy of article first published in: Frontiers in marine science, 2016, v.3

The article was also published as part of an open access ebook, Borja, A., Elliott, M., Uyarra, M. C., Carstensen, J., Mea, M., eds. (2017). Bridging the Gap Between Policy and Science in Assessing the Health Status of Marine Ecosystems, 2nd Edition. Lausanne: Frontiers Media. doi: 10.3389/978-2-88945-126-5

Published article
Published article
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