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Sensitivity and Vulnerability in Marine Environments: an Approach to Identifying Vulnerable Marine Areas

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Marine environments have suffered from a lack of quantitative methods for delineating areas that are sensitive or vulnerable to particular stresses, natural and anthropogenic. We define sensitivity as the degree to which marine features respond to stresses, which are deviations of environmental conditions beyond the expected range. Vulnerability can then be defined as the probability that a feature will be exposed to a stress to which it is sensitive. Using these definitions, we provide a quantitative methodology for identifying vulnerable marine areas based on valued ecological features, defined as biological or physical features, processes, or structures deemed by humans to have environmental, social, cultural, or economic significance. The vulnerability of the valued ecological features is a function of their sensitivity to particular stresses and their vulnerability to those stresses. We used the methodology to demonstrate how vulnerable marine areas for two groups of endangered whale species (inshore and offshore) could be identified with a predictive habitat model and acoustic stress surfaces. Acoustic stress surfaces were produced for ferry traffic, commercial shipping traffic, potential offshore oil production, and small-boat traffic. The vulnerabilities of the two whale groups to the four stressors considered in this example were relatively similar; however, inshore species were more sensitive to on-shelf, coastal activities such as offshore hydrocarbon production, ferry traffic, and small-boat traffic. Our approach demonstrates how valued features can be associated with stresses and the likelihood of encountering these stresses (vulnerability) in order to identify geographic areas for management and conservation purposes. The method can be applied to any combination of valued ecological features and stressors.
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Keywords: acoustic pollution; acoustic stress; cetaceans; cetáceos; contaminación acústica; estrés acústico; marine protected areas; sensitive areas; áreas marinas protegidas; áreas sensibles

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Environmental Science and Resource Management Program, California State University–Channel Islands, 1 University Drive, Camarillo, CA 93012, U.S.A., Email: [email protected] 2: SciTech Consulting, 1511 East 3rd Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia V5N 1G8, Canada

Publication date: February 1, 2005

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