Key issues for decision makers to consider
Although earlier marine biodiversity legislation does not refer to climate change directly there are associated secondary mechanisms through which climate change impacts can be addressed. Some recent legislation explicitly recognises the need to account for climate change in achieving its objectives. Delivering the objectives of the legislation in the face of climate change would benefit from:
- Risk assessments for marine protected areas taking account of the impacts of climate change on their designated features.
In contrast to the terrestrial environment, where species sensitivities to climate change are starting to be assessed, a formal analysis of the vulnerability of marine protected area features to climate change is not yet available. This could be a particular issue for features which are climate-sensitive and only designated in one marine protected area. Of the 42 features designated in only one marine protected area, a number are known to be sensitive to climate change, including long-snouted seahorses (Hippocampus guttulatus), black seabream (Spondyliosoma cantharus) and Northern sea fan and sponge communities.
The number of different marine protected areas that individual features are designated in across the UK network (right).
- Knowledge of where to direct effort in terms of evidence gathering to inform management.
The magnitude of response of those marine protected area features that are sensitive to climate change will vary temporally and geographically. Identifying where habitats and ecological communities are most, and least, likely to be affected by physical changes in the environment (e.g. temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and pH) will be a critical step in managing marine protected areas in the face of climate change.
One way to help prioritise where effort is directed is to use Velocity of Climate Change (VoCC) analyses as developed by the scientific community. VoCC provides a simple measure of past and likely future changes in the physical environment, such as sea surface temperature. Because VoCC gives the speed and direction of movement of areas of similar temperatures over time (in kilometers per year), it can be used to indicate how a species would need to shift its distribution to track its preferred thermal niche. In the marine environment, many species distribution shifts have been shown to follow the VoCC.
Around the UK, the VoCC for sea surface temperature was much higher off the east coast of the UK over the past 50 years (see left image) than off the west coast. This pattern is projected to continue over the next 50 years* (see right image), albeit to a lesser degree, and with highest velocities found further offshore in the North Sea. This variability in the VoCC could provide a useful indicator of the potential vulnerability of designated species and habitats across the UK marine protected area network. Where climate velocities are lower, it might be easier to manage climate change impacts on marine protected areas as species distribution shifts would be expected to be smaller.
Last 50 years
Next 50 years
Velocity of climate change (VoCC) around the UK for sea surface temperature. The VoCC indicates how fast (colours) and in what direction (arrows) a species would need to move to track its preferred thermal niche.
*Under a comparatively high greenhouse gas emission scenario (RCP 8.5). The VoCC projection uses the mean output from a large number of climate model simulations, generated by multiple international climate models.
Text and image based on original research by Michael Burrows and Jorge García Molinos
- A flexible approach in responding to climate-driven changes in the distribution of features within the marine protected area network.
- A comprehensive review of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive biodiversity indicators and targets to assess their sensitivity to climate change.
- Consideration of the impacts of climate change on marine biodiversity when new legislative mechanisms are developed or existing legislation is updated.