Friday, 28 June 2013

Is biodiversity truly part of sustainability planning?

A new tool to put sustainability firmly in the urban planning process seems to have omitted a crucial element of sustainability: biodiversity. Is this a result of us not fully understanding our impacts?

As part of the EU BRIDGE1 project the Decision Support System2 tool aims to help urban planners integrate sustainability into strategic urban planning. The system helps, by modelling the flow of energy and materials (e.g. water, energy and pollutants) to and from the urban and outside environments, providing planners with valuable insight into the potential impacts of planning options.

Tools which help put sustainability at the heart of urban planning are to be welcomed, what is not clear is whether this particular tool takes account of biodiversity per se. Although in introducing the tool, the team establish a clear link between a ‘city’ being comparable to a ‘natural ecosystem’, has the interaction of biodiversity been accounted? At one end, this might be movement and interaction of pets and at the other potential impacts to physical and genetic biodiversity movement.

Including biodiversity may not require any further significant investment, rather a coupling and clearly combined objectives. For example, greening the urban environment can have many benefits, such as urban cooling, pollution control and biodiversity infrastructure. Without biodiversity being part of this picture, we may be missing opportunities. 

Further, with technology and therefore data collection becoming ever cheaper and ‘citizen friendly’ and with the advent of the ‘internet of things’, our ability to monitor our impacts and those of planning decisions is becoming easier. A recent example of this is the BBC's documentary on Life of Cats3. This project used tiny cameras and tracking devices to watch and analyse how people’s pet cats interacted with the urban and outside environments. Such use of technology will surely help close the information gap, and perhaps facilitate biodiversity truly being a part of urban sustainability.

Do we truly understand our impacts on biodiversity as a result of the urban environment? If not, is this preventing modelling of our impacts on biodiversity? How can we use advancements in technology to help?


d.boyd Flickr Account - Creative Commons

Friday, 21 June 2013

Severn Barrage inquiry finds too much environmental uncertainty

The recently revised Severn Barrage proposals raise questions over its potential environmental impact. Will power generation in the Severn ever be economically and environmentally acceptable?

An inquiry report1 by the UK Energy and Climate Change Committee found that the environmental impacts of the revised Severn Barrage tidal power scheme were currently too unclear. The report1 states that “further research, data and modelling will be needed before environmental impacts can be determined with any certainty”. Raising particular concern over the need for “ unprecedented scale..” of compensatory habitat, “..casting doubt..” on the project being compliant.

Lessons from across the globe point towards a cautious evidence based approach being needed. During the inquiry2, examples from La Rance (France) and Bay of Fundy (Canada) were both referenced. It is the Canadian example which seems to bear the closest similarity to the conditions of the Severn Estuary, with ecological impacts, from Canada being cited as fish mortality and habitat degradation and loss. However both the technology used for power generation and the knowledge available have advanced.

Can lessons be learnt and if so will it be enough to make the Severn proposals compliant and acceptable? One of the original Severn Barrage reports3 reported an intertidal habitat replacement cost of £65,000 per hectare. The latest proposal, from Hafren Power4 estimates less than 5000 hectares of habitat will be directly lost. Looking only at the direct habitat which might be lost, and on a like for like basis (1:1) this direct habitat replacement cost could equal £325 million.

However, if existing habitat could be acceptably modified, perhaps the issue of habitat loss might not be so great. The latest business case4 from Hafren Power, seems to suggest some novel approaches to try an address this issue. Such as proposals to raise any potentially impacted habitats and better control over estuary water movement.

Whether the project ever becomes environmentally viable remains to be seen, but certainly robust data sets and evidence must be used to ensure environmental impacts are accounted for and mitigated. Can the economic and environmental considerations ever be balanced?


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Dave Hamster Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, 14 June 2013

Are we ready for an increase in marine mammal acoustic surveys?

Monitoring of marine mammals is not new, but is in the context of the offshore renewable industry. Are the technology and tools ready for what is likely to be an increase in this type of data?

In Europe, underwater noise is covered under Indicator Number 11 of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD)1. This legislation aims to reduce underwater noise levels by 2020. As a result Germany has set strict guidelines for the maximum levels during offshore wind farm development activities. It is anticipated that other European countries who have not yet set such levels may do so, including the UK.

Given the recent inclusion of an industry context, and in the importance of this issue to policy makers, an increase in surveys and data is to be expected. But do we have well developed easy applications and tools to help a wide audience conduct and analyse such surveys and data?

A similar area which has seen developments is in the survey and identification of bat species. One such project, iBats2, has developed a free application to help identify species behind the calls heard. Although the accuracy of such applications can vary, the iBats project has attempted to capture community feedback. In the marine world, a competition3 run on the Kaggle platform has helped improve Cornell’s whale detection model from 72% to 98%.

Is there work going on which will help provide tools to analyse marine acoustic data? Do they already exist?

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Tolomea Flickr Account - Creative Commons 2.0 Licence

Friday, 7 June 2013

Online Collaboration to Aid Sponge Taxonomy

A new online collaboration aims to speed up and strengthen the taxonomic naming of sponges. This is just one example of how the internet has and can help increase the global scientific output.

Sponges play a vital role in our marine ecosystems, principally by acting as water cleaners. Their taxonomy has traditionally been challenging, partially because of the difficulty in bringing together all the required data, to accurately check and name species.

The SpongeMaps tool, is an online collaboration which aims to help quicken the speed of data delivery and provide a focal point for stronger formal naming and releasing of taxonomic data. Specifically the tool brings a variety of data, including morphology, images, geo-referenced data, chemical structures and molecular barcodes into the focal point for experts and public alike.

These types of projects, which aim to speed up taxonomic processes are important to our ongoing ability to accurately describe and document biodiversity in the long term. Primarily because taxonomy makes it possible to quickly identify species on an ongoing basis, but also acts as an anchor to other relevant information regarding that species.

Behind the SpongeMaps tool, the taxonomic lexicon is underpinned by the World Porifera Database, which is in turn a product of the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS). Sources of authoritative and comprehensive registers of species names, like these, are vital in establishing a common standard for using taxonomic data across the globe.

As part of our commitment and belief in the importance of global taxonomic standards, our team are delighted to announce an agreement with WoRMS to incorporate the global list of marine species into our data tools (see announcement).

Global Names Project

Phillipe Guilliame Flickr Account - Creative Commons Licence