Through the Darwin Plus project Turks and Caicos Islands technical assistance programme for effective coastal-marine management (DPLUS119), JNCC, the Turks and Caicos Islands Government Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR), and the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) are working together to improve the evidence base and build local capacity to support sustainable coastal and marine management approaches in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Work Package 2 is developing marine and coastal habitat sensitivity, vulnerability, and status assessments.
Status and vulnerability assessments determine the area covered by natural assets, their condition, sensitivity and vulnerability to pressures such as human activities and climate change. Natural assets, including habitats and species, provide vital benefits and services to society. Therefore, assessing the status and vulnerability of natural assets is important for understanding nature’s capacity to deliver ecosystem services under pressure and for informing decisions to support the continued provision of services.
Through Work Package 2, this project will deliver habitat sensitivity and vulnerability assessments to help inform conclusions on the status of marine natural assets. Coral reefs, seagrass beds, and sand have been prioritised as key habitats for assessment because of the valuable ecosystem services they support (see Figure 1 below for the locations of marine benthic habitats). Existing data and tools are being used to firstly identify the pressures affecting key habitats and their sensitivity to these pressures; and secondly to undertake vulnerability assessments to inform the habitats’ current and future status.
This work is being delivered in partnership with stakeholders from the Project Advisory Group (PAG) to ensure that outputs are informed by local knowledge and to build the capacity required for independently updating habitat status assessments in the future.
Figure 1. Benthic habitat map of the shallow waters surrounding the Turks and Caicos Islands. Created using satellite images and habitat definitions from Schill et al. (2020) and bathymetry data from GEBCO2014 (projection: Web Mercator, datum: World Geodatic System 1984, coordinate system: WGS84).
Work Package 2 is developing marine and coastal habitat pressures and sensitivity assessments, and habitat vulnerability and status assessments.
Habitat Pressures and Sensitivity Assessment
Work Package 2 has collated existing information on habitat condition, human activities, and their associated pressures on the marine environment to underpin habitat sensitivity assessments. Evidence was sourced from a scientific literature review, the asset register and habitat maps developed by Work Package 1, activity data from the SAERI-led Darwin Initiative funded project, Developing Marine Spatial Planning tools for the Turks and Caicos Islands (DPLUS094), and JNCC's Pressures-Activities Database.
A list of seven priority pressures, including human activities, climate change, and invasive species, was finalised through discussions with the PAG during a virtual workshop delivered by JNCC in August 2021. PAG representatives at the workshop included individuals from DECR, SAERI, Department of Maritime Affairs and Shipping, TCI Fishing Cooperative, Turks and Caicos Reef Fund, eftec, and JNCC.
Habitat sensitivity is defined as a product of a habitat’s tolerance to damage from pressures, and the rate at which the habitat can recover once the pressure is removed, or its resilience. To assess habitat sensitivity, Work Package 2 completed a systematic literature review of the tolerance and resilience of key habitats to the seven prioritised pressures. The sensitivity assessments were undertaken using the Marine Evidence based Sensitivity Assessment (MarESA) method developed by the UK’s Marine Biological Association.
You will be able to find out more about the habitat sensitivity assessments in the following outputs when published:
- Activities and pressures list
- Habitat sensitivity methods report
- Coral reef sensitivity assessment
- Seagrass sensitivity assessment
- Sand sensitivity assessment
Habitat Status and Vulnerability Assessment
Work Package 2 also seeks to provide an updated view of the condition of key habitats to feed into the Asset Register developed by Work Package 1, as habitat condition may affect the delivery of ecosystem services associated with the habitat. Vulnerability assessments will inform conclusions on the status of key habitats and are underpinned by the outputs of the habitat sensitivity assessments.
Vulnerability is a measure of how sensitive and exposed a habitat is to a pressure. To determine habitat vulnerability, natural capital data from Work Package 1, and pressures and sensitivity data from Work Package 2 will be combined to estimate the degree to which habitats sensitive to the seven priority pressures have exposure to them. Assessing vulnerability is important to inform effective management because it indicates which habitats are potentially most at risk, either because they are in areas more exposed to environmental pressure, or because they take a long time to recover from damage.
You will be able to find out more about the habitat vulnerability assessments in the following outputs when published:
- Habitat vulnerability methods report
- Coral reef vulnerability assessment
- Seagrass vulnerability assessment
- Sand vulnerability assessment