ICES release advice on a seafloor assessment process

ICES has today released advice that presents a seafloor assessment process for physical loss and physical disturbance on benthic habitats. This advice relates to the EU's Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), specifically Descriptor 6 on Seafloor integrity (D6). The aim of D6 is the sustainable management of human activities affecting our seas so that the integrity of the seabed is at a level that ensures the structure and functions of ecosystems are safeguarded and benthic ecosystems, in particular, are not adversely affected. As such, ICES sees Ecosystem-based Management (EBM) as the guiding principle behind the MSFD and the primary way of managing human activities affecting marine ecosystems.


The seafloor pressure assessment process advised by ICES assigns each human activity into one of four subtypes of pressure – abrasion, removal, deposition, and sealing. These physical pressure subtypes were identified by ICES as the only pathways from activities to physical loss or physical disturbance. Physical disturbance can become so pronounced that it results in unsealed loss. All lost habitat is excluded from the assessment of disturbance. The dominant activities associated with each pressure subtype are removal: aggregate extraction; abrasion: fishing with mobile bottom-contacting gears; deposition: disposal of (dredged) material; sealing: physical structures.

The development of this seafloor assessment process and advice is timely, due to the parallel work of the EU Technical Group on seabed habitats and sea-floor integrity that is currently revising MSFD Article 8 guidance with regard to D6. The assessment process supports these developments and facilitates an overarching regional framework that allows for the benchmarking of national assessments against regional assessments, thereby providing further consistency.


The full article can be found at

ICES Special Request Advice (PDF 05.12.19) can also be found at