Ecosystem overviews

Greater North Sea Ecoregion

State of habitat
​​​​The benthic substrate of the Greater North Sea is predominantly characterized by soft sediments (from muds to gravel beds). Sediments from mobile muds to coarse sands are present throughout the region. Gravel beds are mainly distributed in the English Channel and the southern North Sea. The North Sea contains limited biogenic and geogenic reefs, except for patches of Sabellaria spinulosa reefs and scattered boulder fields. The shores consist mainly of mobile sediment types, i.e. mud, sand, and boulder beaches, while rocky shores are mostly found in the northern North Sea and the English Channel. The North Sea benthic habitats are impacted by bottom trawling, sand and gravel extraction, and recently also the growing introduction of offshore renewable energy structures such as wind farms, leading to pressures of abrasion, smothering, habitat loss, and selective extraction of non-living resources. Artificial hard substrates, such as hydrocarbon production platforms, wind turbines, and ship wrecks may act as new hard substrate habitat types that increase local biodiversity.
Before 1900, biogenic oyster Ostrea edulis reefs were a large separate habitat type in the central part of the North Sea, but this disappeared most likely due to changes in currents and overfishing. Sea grasses (Zosteraceae) were common along the coasts of the southern North Sea; these have also mostly disappeared.
The pelagic habitat of the North Sea is dominated by the difference between the mixed waters in the southern and eastern parts of the region and the stratified waters in the north. Pelagic organisms are also affected by the frontal dynamics of the sea. Many of these fronts are semi-permanent.​


Threatened and declining habitats in the Greater North Sea according to OSPAR:

Coral gardens
Intertidal Mytilus edulis beds on mixed and sandy sediments
Intertidal mudflats
Littoral chalk communities
Lophelia pertusa reefs
Maerl beds
Modiolus modiolus beds
Ostrea edulis beds
Sabellaria spinulosa reefs
Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities
Zostera beds​​​​​

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Major substrates on the shelf in the Greater North Sea (as compiled by EMODNET seabed habitats; Click image to enlarge.​​
The probability of thermal fronts in summer in the North Sea. Red = 100% and blue = 0%. Remote sensing data 1999–2011. (Plymouth Marine Laboratory) Click to enlarge image.
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Greater North Sea Ecoregion

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