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Proposed suite of marine indicators

Looking out across the water

Image: RSPB Images - Simon Watterson

As part of our report, A review of marine environmental indicators reporting on biodiversity aspects of ecosystem health, proposals for a coherent suite of indicators for the biodiversity aspects of marine ecosystem health for use in the UK were checked against six criteria to find those that effectively reported on ecosystem resilience, structure and vigour.

The final suite was divided into three themes, covering: fisheries; biodiversity; water quality and pollution. 


An indicator developed around the theme of fish community structure could be linked to the UK's objective of conserving and enhancing the status of marine biodiversity, while also monitoring the objective of achieving sustainable fish stocks.

Therefore, it would provide a link back to the impacts of fishing, ie human impacts, and hence should feed back into management actions that can improve the status of the indicator. An illustrative example is the indicator proposed by OSPAR - 'Changes in proportion of large fish'. 


An indicator developed around the theme of biodiversity community structure would report on the status of marine biodiversity and communities and would be useful for reporting on habitat complexity. An illustrative example is the UNCSD (United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development) indicator - 'Connectivity/fragmentation of ecosystems'.

Water quality and pollution 

An indicator developed around the theme of hazardous substances would measure the quality of the marine environment. It would also link to activities that are the subject of management measures (eg discharge consents), which makes it possible to influence the water quality trend(s) highlighted by this indicator. An illustrative example is the European Environment Agency indicator – 'Hazardous substances in marine organisms'.

A suite of three indicators, developed around these themes, would cover a spectrum of elements indicative of ecosystem health. This is an important area of future work as marine environmental indicators will not only be used to report on the state of the marine environment, but also on progress towards the UK’s vision of 'clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas'.