The coasts and shelf seas that surround us have been the focal point of human prosperity and well-being throughout our history and, consequently, have had a disproportionate effect on our culture. The societal importance of the shelf seas extends beyond food production to include biodiversity,
carbon cycling and storage, waste disposal, nutrient cycling, recreation and renewable energy. Yet, as increasing proportions of the global population move closer to the coast, our seas have become progressively eroded by human activities, including overfishing, pollution, habitat disturbance
and climate change. This is worrying because the condition of the seabed, biodiversity and human society are inextricably linked. Hence, there is an urgent need to understand the relative sensitivities of a range of shelf habitats so that human pressures can be managed more effectively to
ensure the long-term sustainability of our seas and provision of societal benefits. Achieving these aims is not straightforward, as the capacity of the seabed to provide the goods and services we rely upon depends on local conditions; some habitats are naturally dynamic and relatively insensitive
to disturbance, while others are comparatively stable and vulnerable to change. NERC and Defra have recently initiated a major new research programme - Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry (2011-2017) – that is documenting the sensitivity and status of seabed habitats around the UK based on their
physical condition, the biological communities that inhabit them, and the size and dynamics of the nitrogen and carbon concentrations found there. Emerging results are already providing information on which areas of the UK seabed are most vulnerable to human activities and climate change,
which will be of value to planners and policymakers.
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