Generic ecological assessment framework for coastal ecosystems in the Caribbean Netherlands


The aim of this study was to draft a generic ecological assessment framework for coastal systems in Caribbean Netherlands (CN) that offers guidance in the process of license-applications of planned activities that could impact coastal systems, as well as a general guidance towards environmental and ecological monitoring related to proposed projects and existing activities. The study was limited to the review of (inter)national ecological assessment frameworks and monitoring initiatives; peer-reviewed academic literature was not consulted. Though this draft framework provides guidance, it limits itself to standard practice and general regulations. Further fine-tuning of the framework is required to be applicable to the specific situation in CN. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the individual initiators to customize an adequate and comprehensive ecological impact assessment and monitoring-plan adjusted to the spatial and temporal scale relevant of the type of activities and possible impact resulting from the project.

Fundamental to the draft framework is a network approach in which the impact chain between the activity and ecosystem components is specified by a suit of pressures. The broad strategy of the ecological assessment framework consists of three major phases:

  1. Establishing the context in which the project will take place.
  2. Scoping of the project activities, their pressures and the environmental descriptors relevant to the projected area.
  3. Assessment and evaluation of the pressures on the environmental descriptors.

For each phase practical guidance is provided in the form of questions. While answering these questions an overview is established of all relevant activities, pressures, and environmental descriptors. Each phase is further elaborated upon in the report. An adaptive and interactive management approach is required for the processes of the three phases. Informative environmental descriptors groups were identified based on international monitoring initiatives (Benthic diversity, Coral health, Species requiring special attention, Fish diversity, Chemical water quality, Physical structure) and for each descriptor indicators are proposed. Further study is required into which indicators are most appropriate for CN.

Threshold levels are not commonly available for each of the environmental descriptors. Significance testing in the absence of threshold levels is discussed in de report. A practical guidance is proposed to evaluate and categorize the significance of an impact by listing questions related to the nature, magnitude and intensity of the (expected) impacts. Reference is made to relevant (inter) national treaties or ordinances in which qualitative goals are reported.

This report provides practical guidance and considerations on how to establish appropriate reference situations in a changing environment. The reference situations must be chosen using best available information about the physical and biological characteristics of the environment to ensure that they represent suitable reference conditions. Important factors to consider are summed up in this report. A well set-up monitoring design should include multiple reference sites (spread across space and time) to allow the authorities and the initiator to tease apart natural variability and general trends in decline (e.g. due to climate change) from changes caused by the initiated project.

The proposed framework has not yet been tested with pilot situations or cross-referenced with the legal framework in CN, nor has it been evaluated with stakeholders. It is highly recommended to evaluate this framework by applying it to pilot or actual cases, and to adapt were necessary. 

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