Selected marine biological valuation criteria

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This article provides a review of the different approaches to the evaluation of components of the marine environment. It includes relevant literature as well as incorporating the results of discussions at a workshop on marine biological valuation, held from 6 to 8 December 2006 at Ghent (Belgium). The workshop was a joint venture of the EU CA ENCORA and the EU NoE MARBEF ( Both Theme 7 within ENCORA and Theme 3 within MARBEF deal with marine/coastal biological valuation and the workshop aimed to reach a consensus on this topic. The workshop report can be downloaded at (

Selection process

Several initiatives to select biological criteria and to develop valuation methods already exist in literature. These were reviewed and the most appropriate criteria were selected for incorporation into our system. Some of these criteria have already been assessed for their applicability, and some are included in international legislation (e.g. EC Habitat -92/43/EEC- and Bird -79/409/EEC- Directives). This latter point is very important, because any workable valuation assessment for marine areas should ideally mesh with relevant international protection or management initiatives (such as OSPAR 1992[1]), in so far as is practical. This may maximize consistency of approach through the territorial waters, continental shelf and superjacent waters where initiatives overlap.

Literature Review

Three distinct types of literature were included in our review:

  • Articles on the assessment of valuable ecological marine areas
  • Literature on selection criteria for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
  • International legislative documents that include selection criteria (EC Bird/Habitat Directives, Ramsar Convention, OSPAR guidelines, UNEP Convention on Biological Conservation, etc.).

Only ecological criteria were considered relevant to this study; others (e.g. socio-economic or practical considerations) were not included in the overview.

Sealey & Bustamante (1999)[2] described a set of indicators that are indirect or direct measures of biological and ecological value, and whose assessment allows a ranking of the marine study area into subzones with different values. Following this first step, they applied a subsequent set of prioritizing criteria to the list of high-ranked areas to identify the priority areas for conservation. The criteria used to determine the conservation need of the area were based on changes induced by human activities, an evaluation of the potential threats to the area, the political and public concern to protect the area, and the feasibility of designation. The objective of our work is the same as for the first step of Sealey & Bustamante’s work (i.e. ranking of areas according to their inherent biological and ecological value), but we do not address issues of determination of conservation status, or the socio-economic criteria since these also involve social and management decisions. The methodology used by these authors could not be used here since they scored the different valuation criteria through expert judgement. Here, it is tried to establish a valuation concept which is as objective as possible.

Valuation concept

The valuation concept was developed, based in part on a framework developed for the identification of Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs)[3][4], using five criteria: uniqueness, aggregation, fitness consequences, resilience and naturalness. The first three criteria were considered the first-order criteria to select EBSAs, while the other two were used as modifying criteria to upgrade the value of certain areas when they scored high for these criteria.

It was decided that, for the marine biological valuation concept presented here, the criterion of ‘resilience’ should not be included, as it is closely related to the assessment of (future) human impacts, which is not an appropriate criterion for determining the current and inherent biological value of an area (although it is an important consideration in formulating practical management strategies). In contrast, we decided that the criterion ‘naturalness’ should be retained, because it is an index of the degree to which an area is currently (though not inherently) in a pristine condition. In this way, unaltered areas with a high degree of resilience against natural stresses will still be covered by the valuation concept.

The criterion ‘uniqueness’ was renamed ‘rarity’ as this term is more frequently used in literature and encompasses unique features.

The criteria listed in the review were then cross-referenced with the selected valuation criteria, i.e. rarity, aggregation, fitness consequences, and naturalness, to see if additional criteria needed to be included in order to produce a comprehensive valuation concept for the marine environment. It was found that there is much redundancy in the valuation criteria, and that most, but not all, of the criteria mentioned in the literature are accounted for by the selected valuation criteria. One additional criterion was added to the framework to make it fully comprehensive: ‘proportional importance’ (included as a modifying criterion).

The concept of ‘biodiversity’ (including all organizational levels of biodiversity - from the genetic to the ecosystem level, separated into biodiversity structures and processes) should also be included in the valuation framework, though not as a criterion.


In summary, the valuation criteria selected for the development of marine BVMs are: rarity, aggregation, fitness consequences, naturalness and proportional importance|proportional importance.

The upper part of the following figure shows an overview of the biological valuation concept proposed in this paper.
Derousetal Figure.jpg


These paragraphs are based on the paper of Derous et al. (2007). A concept for biological valuation in the marine environment. Oceanologia 49 (1). See FLANDERS MARINE INSTITUTE web site at [1] for the full citation and to download a copy of the paper.

Related articles

Marine biological valuation

Ecosystem services


  1. OSPAR (1992). Convention for the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. Paris, 22 September 1992, published in 32 ILM 1069 (1993).
  2. Sealey S.K., Bustamante G. (1999). Setting geographic priorities for marine conservation in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, Virginia.
  3. DFO (2004). Identification of ecologically and biologically significant areas. DFO Can. Sci. Adv. Secr. Ecosystem Status Report 2004/006.
  4. Glen Jamieson, pers. comm.