ec.europa.eu/environment/marine/eu-coast-and-marine-policy/marine-strategy-framework-directive/index_en.htm “Good environmental status of marine waters means the conditions that support ecologically diverse and dynamic ecosystems in oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive within their intrinsic conditions. It also means that the use of the marine environment is at a level that is sustainable, thus safeguarding the potential for uses and activities by current and future generations”
COASTAL MARINE ECOSYSTEMS AND RESOURCES
Coastal marine systems are among the most ecologically and socio-economically vital systems on the planet and there is a strong scientific consensus that these marine ecosystems, along with the resources and services they provide, are threatened by anthropogenic activities. Coastal and marine areas include 77% of the earth’s resources and ecological systems. Over 40% of the earth’s population lives in coastal regions. Planning and resource use must take climate change into consideration. Coastal ecosystems change naturally, but external forces, or "stressors," can influence the types and rates of those changes and pose risks to the ecosystems. All around the world, coastal resources are under increasing pressure due to population growth and development. More people live in coastal areas than in any other type of area, putting a strain on beaches, marine plants and animals, water and natural resources. Naturally occurring stressors and those resulting from human activities can fall into five general categories; -pollution, invasive species, extreme events, land and resource uses, and climate change. Any stressor under these five categories can cause ecosystem damage but they occur often in combination and have a cumulative impact. Although we are still learning about the impacts of each stressor individually, it has become increasingly important to tackle the challenge of understanding the combined effects of multiple stressors.
Environmental stressors can cause a variety of biological responses in marine organisms, ranging from the biomolecular and biochemical to population and community-level effects. To assess organisms’ health, the bioindicators technique utilizes a suite of biological responses both as integrators of stress effects and as sensitive response (early-warning) indicators of existing and past environmental conditions. Short-term indicators, such as biomolecular and biochemical responses, and longer-term ecologically relevant indicators, such as population and community responses, are included in this approach to provide measurement endpoints that can be used in environmental resources management and ecosystem services or in the regulatory decision and ecological risk assessment (ERA) process.
Biomarkers of environmental stress at lower levels of biological organization provide direct evidence of exposure to stressors while intermediate-level responses such as histopathological, bioenergetic, immunological, and reproductive changes can help into predicting stress effects at the individual, population, and community levels. Responses at lower levels of biological organization have the primary advantage of being relatively sensitive (short-term response) to stressors thus serving as early warning indicators of impaired organisms health. Conversely, responses at higher levels of organization (populations, communities) are relatively insensitive (long-term response) to stressors but have higher ecological relevance and are therefore more directly applicable to the ERA and Environmental Management process and for addressing environmental management and regulatory issues (Fig. 1). Biomarkers, however, should not be considered useful bioindicators of marine organism health unless they are causally linked to ecologically relevant responses such as population or community-level endpoints.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND COASTAL MARINE AREAS
As societies face the consequences of rapid Climate Change and Global warming in the Earth, resulting from human activity during the last century, a period characterized and as Anthropocene, a major challenge before the scientific community is not only to understand how natural and managed ecosystems have responded historically to changes in climate, but also to develop methods that measure and predict ongoing and future impacts of these factors. Predicting when, where and with what magnitude climate change is likely to affect the fitness, abundance and distribution of organisms and the functioning of ecosystems have emerged as a high priorities for scientists and resource managers. However, even in cases where we have detailed knowledge of current species’ range boundaries, we often do not understand what, if any, aspects of weather and climate act to set these limits. Forecasting the location, magnitude and timing of the impacts of climate change on ecosystems is a crucially important task. To date, our attempts to generalize how organisms respond to environmental changes have shown us that climatic factors are spatially and temporally heterogeneous, that organisms do not respond to overall changes in the ‘climate’ per se, but rather to fluctuations in habitat conditions and that organism responses to these changes in their local habitat can be complex and counterintuitive. Thus, to accurately predict the ecological impacts of climate change on organisms requires an ability to distil large-scale environmental signals into niche-level processes, and to decipher how these processes are translated into physiological responses.
THE NEED FOR A INTERDICLIPLINARY APPROACH
Interdisciplinary scientific fields, as those of conservation physiology and mechanistic ecological forecasting, have recently emerged as means of integrating detailed biochemical and physiological responses to the broader questions of ecological and evolutionary responses to global climate change. Physiologists and ecologists have long been interested in the effects of physical parameters (e.g. temperature, salinity, rainfall) on organisms and their interactions. New techniques in the areas of genomics, gene expression and transcriptomics and biochemical indicators of stress have opened new doors for measuring the responses of organisms to their physical environment in both laboratory and field. On the other hand climatologists and oceanographers will help refine our understanding of where and how climate change will impact ecosystems. Moreover, with the application of remote sensing coupled with extensive ground-based measurements of weather and climate, physiology is now being explored on a landscape scale by integrating information on physiological function with knowledge of temporal and spatial patterns in the physical environment. Regional Climate Models will help to simulate the future projection of Climate Change and to predict the possible impacts on marine organisms. We still know little about how climatic stresses, which impair individuals, are translated into ecologically and socio-economically important changes in populations, communities, and ecosystems. However, the systemic to molecular hierarchy of thermal limitation still has to be elaborated in more detail. In the context of climate change, the molecular and physiological responses of marine organisms to extreme environmental conditions are under extensive studies, since such information is important in understanding of how ‘environmental signals’ as air, surface and water temperature might be translated into signals at the scale of the organisms or cells and to predict the possible impacts of global warming on the marine animals.
INTEGRATED RISK ASSESSMENT AND MANAGMENT
Management programs strive to protect marine coastal resources for future generations while balancing today's competing economic, cultural and environmental interests. Coastal management is concerned with protecting, conserving and managing coasts and coastal resources. It is a specific area of environmental protection which focuses on coastal areas. Integrated Risk Assessments provide information so managers and scientists can evaluate a system, develop options for future action, and identify gaps in the understanding of the issues. The Assessments describe the ecosystem, assess its current condition, forecast the future ecological health using current management strategies, and evaluate alternate strategies and their potential impacts. They provide a process to evaluate alternate management methods and information that:
Identifies objectives and priorities for marine protection and enhancement,
Outlines agreed-upon actions and implementation plans to protect and enhancemarine ecosystems,
Serves as a tool for cumulative impact analysis and implementation funding,
Maintains or improves ecosystem health and the health of high-priority threatened species.
A successful Integrated Assessment will be:
Responsive to policy-relevant questions.
Based on peer review and public participation.
Integrated, bringing together information and data from many sources.
Based on high-quality existing information.
Predictive of ecosystem health, consequences of management actions or non-actions, and outcome for future actions.