The ocean provides invaluable services including food and nutrition, energy, transportation, as well as absorption of pollution, coastal protection and climate regulation. The vastness of the seas once gave the impression of limitless services. Now, there is an increasing understanding of how ocean ecosystems' production, structure, and function sets limits to, and tradeoffs among, ocean services and associated societal benefits. In ICES, integrated ecosystem assessments (IEAs) are frameworks developed to support integrated, science-based advice for the sustainable use and protection of marine ecosystems. IEAs typically include scientific evaluations and synthesis of information on physical, chemical, and ecological processes impacting ecosystem state, as well as human pressures and impacts and the associated challenges and risks to the ecological systems.
Currently, our IEAs are strengthening the focus on the interlinkedness of seas and societies by identifying and assessing trade-offs among economic, social, and institutional objectives for ocean management, balancing human impacts and benefits, identifying tradeoffs between human use, and assessing management and policy options and the societal outcomes of these.
ICES IEAs are performed by our expert groups focusing on ecoregions, including the Arctic Ocean (WGICA), the Barents Sea (WGIBAR), the Norwegian Sea (WGINOR), the Greenland Sea (WGIEAGS), the Northwestern Atlantic Regional Seas (WGNARS), the North Sea (WGINOSE), the Baltic Sea (WGIAB), the Western European Shelf Seas (WGEAWESS), the Mediterranean Sea (WGCOMEDA) while an expert group covering the Azores is being established. Combined, ICES ecosystem assessments cover European and North Atlantic waters, and the Polar Ocean, providing unique opportunities for comparative studies of interlinked marine physical and socio-ecological systems, as well as the connectivity between them. Approaches relevant for IEAs are in constant development in the ICES community, including e.g. the development and use of ecosystem indicators and reference points (WGCERP), assessing ecosystem trends from multivariate time series (WKINTRA) and through testing scenarios in ecosystem models (WGIPEM, WKEWE), bridging natural and social sciences (WKCONSERVE), assessing management objectives (WKBESIO) and on provisioning of ecosystem advice (WKEO3) - to mention a few.
Adapted to ecoregions with diverse structures, dynamics, drivers and stressors, and benefits, as well as with diverse monitoring and scientific efforts, ICES IEAs are flexible assessment frameworks, with approaches ranging from qualitative to quantitative. Often, these are used in a coordinated fashion to tackle complex issues and to prioritize and guide efforts towards areas of importance for integrated, cross sector ocean management to secure healthy and productive oceans.
Back to ICES Science Highlights: Addressing the six societal goals of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
While marine ecosystems are complex, our understanding of their functioning is constantly evolving. This increasing knowledge allows us to provide environmental advice that integrates more and more elements of the ecosystem.