What is valuable nature?

One of the things we do in the SEAmBOTH project is to produce maps which can help us identify valuble areas in the sea. Becuase we know that valuable areas are those that we should not destroy, those we should take extra care of to ensure the sea remains healthy and in good status. Therefore a map of them can help us when we plan and do activities so we avoid harming them.

Within this task lies a fundamental question of a rather philosophical character – what is “valuable” nature? Some might say it’s the fish in the sea that is most valuable, maybe based upon their taste for fish or economic dependency of it. Another person might say it is the shallow, sandy bottoms because they find them very pleasant to use as swimming beaches. As soon as we start talking about more “valuable” or less “valuable” parts of nature we are going to get as many answers as number of people we ask. Saying something is “valuable” is a highly subjective act where no answer is more “right” or “wrong” than the other.

How on earth are we to make a map then?!

Picture of a sandy beach
Sandy beach outside of Luleå city (Photo by Petra Pohjola, County Administrative Board of Norrbotten)

This is where we use science. From a long history of research, scientists from all around the world have gathered results, knowledge and drawn conclusions about how the nature function and its inhabitants interact. This has helped clarifying what makes “valuable nature”, from an ecological perspective. We know far from everything about the nature and its intricate functioning (this is important to keep in mind) but some general conclusions exist. For example, biodiversity is important. The variation within genes, species, habitats and landscape is a crucial factor to a well-funtioning and thriving nature. Therefore we also regard areas, species, or functions which uphold the biodiversity as highly “valuable” (notice this is from an ecologicaly perspective. A sandy beach might just as well be regarded as highly valuble for the pleasure it brings a swimmer, but that is from a personal perspective).

White flower above water surface.
Pond water-crowfoot (Photo by Petra Pohjola, County Administrative Board of Norrbotten)

In SEAmBOTH, we have our gathered data in thousands of datapoints from where we know the existance of species. To put these on a map where we can locate areas of higher and lower nature values, we have worked on several steps.

First, we used a nature value assessing tool called MOSAIC to assess a nature value of the different species and habitats we have in our sea. See more from our workshop in a previous blog https://seamboth.com/2019/02/15/is-our-most-valuable-nature-also-our-most-endangered/

Suvi, Linnea and Essi placing post-it-notes on a board.
Workshop on assessing nature values (Photo by Anna Engdahl, County Administrative Board of Norrbotten)

Based upon the scientific knowledge, the MOSAIC tool have evaluated ecosystem components i.e species and habitats, for their value from an ecological perspective. How they contribute to biodiversity is one aspect, their function within the ecosystem another example. Very little of scientific research is made especially up here in our norhtern seas. That is why we needed a local assessment for nature values wihtin SEAmBOTH. What is regarded as highly valuable in the south of the Baltic Sea may not necessarliy be the same here in the north as the conditions of our marine environments differs.

Secondly, with the nature values for the SEAmBOTH area in our hand, we could feed this into the ZONATION spatial planning tool.

The biologcal data together with the data of human pressures located around the sea will be processed in ZONATION. When it has done its job (mastered by our collegue Elina) we have a map of valuable areas in the sea in our hands. The highlited areas on that map will be valuable areas from an ecologically, scientific perspective. A mudddy, shallow bay with thick vegetation and loads of mosquitoes might turn up there as highly valuable. Doesn’t seem too valuable to me who likes beautiful, sandy beaches, one might think. But then keep in mind it is a valuable area for the sea and nature itself. And as well for us humans as we hihgly depend upon a healthy, well functioning sea for our wellbeing.

Written by: Linnea Bergdahl, County Administrative Board of Norrbotten


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