The Challenge

Aquatic ecosystems are rich in biodiversity and home to a diverse array of species and habitats, providing numerous economic and societal benefits to Europe. Many of these valuable ecosystems are at risk of being irreversibly damaged by human activities and pressures, including pollution, contamination, invasive species, overfishing and climate change. These pressures threaten the sustainability of these ecosystems, their provision of ecosystem services and ultimately human well-being.

AQUACROSS seeks to advance the application of ecosystem-based management for aquatic ecosystems in an effort to support the timely achievement of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy and other international conservation targets. In this regard, AQUACROSS aims to develop and test an assessment framework which considers the full array of interactions, including human activities, within aquatic ecosystems.

Existing EU policies have been unable to halt and reverse the trend of declining biodiversity of aquatic ecosystems. The current broad policy landscape such as the Water Framework Directive and Marine Strategy Framework Directive means that sustainable management solutions require coordination and cooperation between different policy areas spanning freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems, in addition to innovative business solutions and public-private engagement.

The Approach

The AQUACROSS approach is built around four pillars of work developed in collaboration with eight local case studies.

Pillar 1: Real world testing — ensures stakeholder engagement, knowledge exchange and social learning to achieve practical policy solutions and end-user uptake. Representatives from science, policy, business and AQUACROSS case studies will help steer project activities and validate results.

Pillar 2: Giving direction — considers existing political processes and legislation to identify synergies and barriers to aquatic ecosystem management. AQUACROSS develops an Assessment Framework to assess aquatic ecosystems in line with integrated management, and including concepts of resilience and uncertainty.

Pillar 3: Increasing scientific knowledge — seeks to identify and assess drivers and pressures of aquatic ecosystems; understand causalities between biodiversity, ecosystem functions and services; ensure exchange of data, information and research results through an information platform; and forecast biodiversity and ecosystem service provision.

Pillar 4: Improving management— builds on work undertaken in the previous pillars to develop concepts, practices and tools for better implementation of EBM. This includes identifying and understanding the linkages between aquatic ecosystems and human well-being and identifying innovative management responses for aquatic ecosystems.

Case studies — are a major source of information and data and ensure interaction across aquatic ecosystems as well as disciplines. Case study stakeholders help co-create concepts and develop products, share experiences with implementing policy and respective management approaches, as well as provide critical feedback on project outputs.

The AQUACROSS project runs from June 2015 to November 2018 and is coordinated by Dr. Manuel Lago.

Work Packages

The work in AQUACROSS under the following topics is applied to the eight case studies. This application serves to achieve a better understanding of end-user needs, utilising this practical experience to determine best practices and lessons learned.  

Stakeholder Engagement and Communication (WP1)

Stakeholder engagement and knowledge transfer ensures that AQUACROSS is framed in terms of policy, stakeholder, and business needs and also communicates project results. This topic area provides guidance on stakeholder engagement to the case study owners, builds an interactive platform for discussion, advice and consultation on main questions relevant for AQUACROSS research with a high-level Science-Policy-Business Think Tank (SPBTT), and communicates and disseminates AQUACROSS findings and outputs to identified target audiences.

Policies Affecting Aquatic Biodiversity (WP2)

This topic investigates the demands (i.e. information and data) that arise from policy implementation to inform other AQUACROSS topic areas. Initial work identifies the main international, European and Member States level policy drivers affecting biodiversity conservation targets (negatively or positively) at different scales of application through top-down and bottom-up approaches. Later work focuses on identifying synergies, opportunities and barriers between the specific operational features of existing environmental and related sectoral policies in Europe that are relevant for the protection of aquatic ecosystems. Ultimately, this work determines the extent of existing and planned EU policies to achieve or hinder achieving EU and International Biodiversity Targets. Finally, AQUACROSS synthesises the insights gained from the undertaken project work so as to provide policy-relevant information, guiding ecosystem-based management implementation to acheive the EU biodiversity targets in aquatic ecosystems in all regions of Europe, as well as potentially beyond Europe.

AQUACROSS Assessment Framework (WP3)

This topic area develops a common framework, building on existing research, for the assessment of aquatic ecosystems that is needed for the development of management concepts. It first frames the AQUACROSS Assessment Framework based on relevant conceptual frameworks (i.e. MAES). Building upon this, the actual AQUACROSS Assessment Framework is established, focusing on concepts, tools and methods and following the DPS-EGS-IR-resilience causal framework, as well as integrating crosscutting issues such as resilience thinking, uncertainty, dealing with varying spatial and temporal scales, and data and metrics for indicators. The Assessment Framework is further refined and updated based on feedback from other topic areas and implementation in the case studies.

Drivers of Change and Pressures on Aquatic Ecosystems (WP4)

Work in this topic area builds on existing knowledge and global projections of drivers and pressures affecting aquatic ecosystems, as well as case study specific knowledge to refine the AQUACROSS Assessment Framework. First, using the outcomes of the Assessment Framework, this topic delivers guidance for the development of indicators and application of methods to assess drivers and pressures affecting aquatic ecosystems. Next, using the guidance on indicators and methods identified in the first step, the Assessment Framework is tested in regard to drivers and pressures in the case studies. The suitability of the proposed indicators, models and tools for the assessment in the case studies is investigated and proposals to improve the Assessment Framework are made. The assessment in case studies are also used to provide policy recommendations on the practical application of the Assessment Framework on drivers and pressures.

Causalities between Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functions and Services (WP5)

This topic investigates in more detail the possible links between biodiversity, ecosystem functions and services dimensions of the AQUACROSS Assessment Framework. Using the outcomes of the Assessment Framework, this topic develops guidance on the application of indicators and methods to further understand causalities in the case studies. The suitability of the proposed indicators and methods for the assessment in the case studies are investigated and proposals to improve the Assessment Framework are made. The results coming from the case study assessment are used to provide policy recommendations on the practical application of the Assessment Framework on the case studies.

Information Platform (WP6)

Work in this topic area focuses on the design, develop, build and test an information and data platform. It develops a data management plan, and designs and writes operational guidelines on geographic information systems (GIS) and information management to support project partners. Work under this topic is also responsible for design and implementation of the Information Platform, based on the data management plan. The experiences and feedback with data and information management learned within AQUACROSS are synthesised to support future initiatives.

Forecasting Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Provision (WP7)

This topic area builds on results from the AQUACROSS Assessment Framework to select and develop modelling approaches for the projected changes in drivers and pressures, and runs model scenarios for the case studies. Models to project and forecast impacts of drivers of change on aquatic biodiversity, ecosystem functions and ecosystems service delivery and uncertainty are selected, followed by the development of scenarios through participatory processes and assessment of the impacts of projected drivers in case  study areas. Results are then evaluated in order to provide feedback to and update the Assessment Framework, provide policy recommendations on the application of the framework, and insights for the advancement of theory.

Ecosystem-based Management Towards Policy Objectives (WP8)

Work under this topic identifies and provides best practices on how to develop and implement ecosystem-based management across all aquatic ecosystems in order to achieve the EU and international Biodiversity Strategy targets. Initial work builds on the results of the AQUACROSS Assessment Framework to further develop guidance on indicators, tools and methods to assess the link between well-being and human responses for the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable management of ecosystem services. Further work then assesses the impact of management responses using a risk analysis in case studies, followed by a selection of appropriate responses, a more detailed evaluation of management options based on model outputs from work in the forecasting topic and the exploration of financial models to foster innovation uptake. The lessons learned are used to provide insights for the Assessment Framework and policy recommendations.