Marine Sensitivity Assessments
Sensitivity is defined as the likelihood of change when a pressure (which could be chemical, physical, hydrological or biological) is applied to a species or habitat. It is a function of the ability of the habitat or species to tolerate or resist change (resistance or tolerance) and the rate (or time taken) for it to recover from impact (resilience or recovery) (Tillin & Tyler-Walters, 2014).
There are two main tools that provide these sensitivity assessments for a range of UK marine habitats and species:
Marine Evidence-based Sensitivity Assessment (MarESA)
- MarESA sensitivity assessments, undertaken through the Marine Life Information Network (MarLIN), provide sensitivity assessments for a range of EUNIS and Britain and Ireland habitat classification (v15.03) biotopes, UK-wide, alongside their detailed evidence bases.
- Assessments are undertaken mainly at Level 5 and 6 of the classifications (e.g. the biological assemblage level).
- The assessments are based on a detailed review of available evidence on the effects of pressures on biotopes, and a subsequent scoring of sensitivity against a standard list of pressures, and their benchmark levels of effect.
- The full MarESA method is detailed in the MarESA guide available on the MarLIN website.
- JNCC chairs the MarLIN steering committee, which has a long-running Memorandum of Agreement with the Marine Biological Association, the statutory nature conservation bodies, Marine Scotland, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The purpose of this group is to continue the development and maintenance of MarLIN, including regular updates using more recent literature, and peer-reviews of existing assessments.
Feature, Activity, Sensitivity Tool (FeAST)
- The FeAST online tool uses a Marine Protected Area ‘feature’ approach (e.g. habitat or species) and provides sensitivity assessments for Scotland’s Priority Marine Features (including benthic habitats and species, seabirds, fish and mammals).
- Assessments have been made tailored for Scottish waters.
- Evidence for the sensitivity assessments and a full bibliography are available to view within FeAST.
- JNCC chairs the FeAST working group, with members from SNH, Marine Scotland and SEPA. The main purpose of the group is to manage and deliver a programme of work to improve the provision of feature sensitivity assessments in Scotland via the FeAST tool, with links to UK initiatives where appropriate (MarLIN and the UK Pressures Activities Database).
Sensitivity assessments are widely used for Marine Protected Area conservation advice, for the development and testing of OSPAR and national indicators, and in vulnerability assessments. Vulnerability assessments use the sensitivity assessment of a species or habitat but also take into consideration further information such as the physical extent (footprint), length of time, and frequency of an activity. These assessments can then be tailored to a specific occurrence of an activity or in a specific area, such as a Marine Protected Area or Regional Sea.