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The MARMONI approach to marine biodiversity indicators


The MARMONI project included research on developing idicators for the assessment of the state of marine biodiversity, which is a very new and developing topic in the first decade of the 21st century in the Baltic Sea Region.

Application in MSP:
Type of Issue:
Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Coherence with other processes:
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Questions this practice may help answer

  • What process can be used to develop a set of indicators to assess biodiversity for a sea?
  • Which indicators can be used in the assessment of the biodiversity of the Baltic Sea?
  • What is the marine biodiversity status in several areas in the Baltic Sea (mostly a test)?

Implementation Context

The assessment of the state of marine biodiversity in the Baltic Sea area was a very new and developing topic in the first decade of the 21st century. By 2009 only some international efforts had been made to create a common understanding of methods and procedures to be utilized in performing biodiversity assessments, development of assessment criteria, and applying of thresholds and quality classification for the state of biodiversity. Consequently, no commonly agreed procedures and methods for the assessment of neither marine biodiversity or conservation status of species and habitats were available at the beginning of the project in autumn 2010. Several incentives, such as the requirements of the MSFD, other European projects and the HELCOM BSAP group led to the need to develop an indicator-based approach for the evaluation and assessment of the Baltic Sea marine biodiversity.

Aspects / Objectives

Find and define indicators for the assessment of the Baltic Sea biodiversity


The development of indicators within the MARMONI project was organized as a creative process and included several phases:

  1. Identification of existing and operational indicators or monitoring parameters and relevant background data used in the routine monitoring or data collection covering the subject of interest (indicator group e.g. birds, habitats, etc.);
  2. Analysis of the suitability of existing indicators or monitoring parameters for assessment of the state of biodiversity on the relevant geographical scale. This was achieved by analyzing the spatial and temporal relevance of the indicator against the variability of pressures and other components of marine biodiversity;
  3. Conceptual development of new indicators based on the needs of the assessment, experience, and analysis of the gaps in the current monitoring schemes and programmes;
  4. Testing of field methods was an integral part of the process, especially for the novel indicators and methods. This work was time consuming and covered several field seasons;
  5. Validation of indicators against human induced pressure: the testing of pressure gradients has been a very challenging task since the pressure gradients should be identified within the given project areas and combined with actual sampling and observation activities;
  6. Testing applicability of indicators in different geographical areas was carried out by testing and evaluation of selected indicators in project areas other than the ones where they were originally developed;
  7. Establishment of reference conditions was a scientific exercise requiring the application of different approaches and strategies, including extensive data mining and analysis. Making indicators “operational“ in most cases involved the establishment of site- or area-specific levels or values of desirable state for the present condition of the indicator to be measured against;
  8. Establishment of targets or level corresponding to GES, “Environmental target” is the concept applied by the MSFD to identify the condition of the different components of, and pressures and impacts on, marine environment. The establishment of targets is both, a scientific and a political exercise, and is essential for the use of indicators in assessment schemes;
  9. Standardized documentation was set up to facilitate the application of the indicators in areas other than for which they were developed, and/or for them to be applied by persons other than those involved in the development of the indicators;
  10. Using the indicators in a practical assessment exercise. As a separate activity in the project, an assessment exercise was designed to include both previously available indicator data and indicators developed in the course of the MARMONI project.

Main Outputs / Results

The following Indicators and parameters have been used for assessment of conservation status of species and habitats:

The results of the conservation status assessments of individual species and habitats were used to calculate an area score that shows the performance of the area and confidence of this evaluation. The main results of the favourable conservation status assessment are presented in Table 9. Higher scores were obtained for the Gulf of Riga than the other areas, and the number of objects with unknown status was not higher than in other areas. This suggests that the assessment outcome can possibly be affected by the availability of data where data for species and habitats not considered as being at risk is lacking. On the other hand, where the assessment score for particular assessment category reached maximum 100% it was often based on limited number of assessed objects and thus low percentage of objects with known conservation status. The assessment category “Specific structures and functions” achieved lower scores than other assessment categories and although mainly based on expert judgement conservation status of all assessed objects was known.

Besides the outcomes of the indicators the conclusions were provided about the process of finding and defining these indicators. These conclusions were related to three different topics, and can be found in the report:

  • Conclusions related to policy frames (MSFD, Habitat and Bird directive, Baltic Sea Action Plan, National Monitoring Programmes.
  • Conclusions on methodological aspects of the indicators (all topics, fish, benthic, pelagic) birds)
  • Conclusions derived from the application of indicators for the biodiversity assessment (Number of indicators, quality of indicators, data availability, need for indicator development, assessment areas, scale issue, assessment procedure).


The process of finding and defining indicators can be used in other European Seas too. The indicators developed can also partly be applied for in other seas, but that is highly depending on other variables, such as data availability etc. Also the framework for the four test areas can be applied for in other areas in the Baltic Sea, and the results are therefore transferable.

Costs / Funding Source

European Union LIFE+ Nature & Biodiversity program as well as other donors and project partners (Project Nr. LIFE09 NAT/LV/000238)

Responsible Entity

Estonian Marine Institute, University of Tartu

Mäealuse 14

12618 Tallinn