A Ship Traffic Disturbance Vulnerability Index for Northwest European Seabirds as a Tool for Marine Spatial Planning

Abstract: 

This study developed a Disturbance Vulnerability Index (DVI) for 26 seabird species for disturbance from ship traffic in the German Baltic and North Seas. The index combined indicators for species’ shyness, escape costs, and compensatory potential, and analyzed the relationships among shyness, escape costs, and vulnerability. The results suggest that there is a need for areas with little or no disturbance in some marine protected areas, to act as a refuge for vulnerable species.

Sea Basin(s): 
Country: 
Year: 
2019
Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Sectors: 
Nature protection
Shipping
Type of Issue: 
Data
Environment aspects
Type of practice: 
Tools
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Analyse spatial aspects
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
No
Coherence with other processes: 
Habitats and Birds Directive
Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Questions this practice may help answer:

  • How can seabird species vulnerability to shipping traffic be assessed? 

Implementation Context:

The index was developed as a management tool to assess different vulnerabilities of a given sea area with respect to disturbance by ships. It was tested using data from the German Baltic and North Seas. This tool can be used during a maritime spatial planning process to regulate ship traffic in order to protect seabirds. 

Aspects / Objectives:

This study aimed to further knowledge of species-specific behavioral disturbance responses at sea for all common and characteristic seabirds in German waters using experimental disturbance. In order to do so, the authors:

  • Developed a Disturbance Vulnerability Index (DVI) for ship traffic, combining indicators for species’ shyness, escape costs, and compensatory potential, which can be used as a management tool to assess different vulnerabilities of a given sea area with respect to disturbance by ships.
  • Investigated the general relationships among shyness, escape costs, and vulnerability in seabirds by cross-species comparisons of disturbance-related factors.

Method:

The DVI was developed taking the factors and scoring seen in table 1 below. The relationships among the three components of the DVI were investigated through statistical analysis (e.g. Spearman’s rank-order correlations in R).

Main Outputs / Results:

The results were divided into behavioural observations and DVI values. 

1) Behavioural observations:

  • The proportion of time the birds spent swimming

  • Proportion of escaping birds showing disturbance responses such as flushing or escape diving 

  • Escape distance

DVI values for each species

Transferability:

This tool can be used for the development of management actions for the protection of seabirds in the North and Baltic Seas in ship traffic areas. 

Responsible Entity:

Research and Technology Centre, University of Kiel, Büsum, Germany

Costs / Funding Source:

Data collection and parts of the manuscript preparation were carried out within the German Marine Biodiversity Monitoring and the Project “Fachbeitrag Naturschutz zur maritimen Raumordnung” (FABENA; FKZ 3515 82 0600), both funded by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN). 

Contact person:

Katharina Leonia Fliessbach

University of Kiel

fliessbach@ftz-west.uni-kiel.de

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