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Our Research

Biodiverse seas and human societies

From the air we breathe to the food on our tables, healthy, biodiverse, clean, and productive seas are vital to human well-being. Biodiverse marine ecosystems provide flows of ecosystem services that lead to goods and benefits for society, support human well-being, and enable economic sustainability and resilience. Yet the intensification of human activities, both on land and at sea, is accelerating marine biodiversity loss globally and within Europe. Human activities — including the direct exploitation of natural resources, tourism, coastal development, trade and transport, aquaculture, fisheries, agriculture and waste management — all place pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems, undermining biodiversity and the many benefits that it provides. 

To mitigate these pressures, effective management of marine and coastal environments is essential — not only to achieve international biodiversity goals (such as the EU Biodiversity Strategy), but also in combating the threats of climate change (e.g. ocean warming, sea level rise, acidification, increased storminess) and environmental degradation (e.g. pollution and eutrophication). Actions such as maintaining healthy fish stocks and choosing appropriate spaces for marine renewable energy can reduce human impact on the ocean while ensuring that human needs are met sustainably.

Marine SABRES (Marine Systems Approaches for Biodiversity Resilience and Ecosystem Sustainability) is a research project funded by the European Union  that aims to conserve and protect biodiversity by integrating healthy, sustainably-used ecosystems and a resilient blue economy. To do so, Marine SABRES brings together international experts across the biological and social sciences to improve the management of Europe’s oceans and seas.​

Fishing Net

How do we protect and maintain marine ecosystems while sustainably delivering societal goods and benefits? 

Ecosystem-Based Management (abbreviated as ‘EBM’ and sometimes called the ‘Ecosystem Approach’) is a management practice that recognises that our economies and societies crucially depend on the environment and what it provides us, including fresh air, clean water, food, energy, recreation, inspiration, enjoyment, and more. Managing the complex human-environmental system, however, is no easy task. Coastal and marine management involves balancing multiple human activities and the pressures they exert on the environment, all of which combine to produce cumulative impacts on ocean ecosystems. In some cases, the overwhelming complexity of the system has distracted from our capacity to effectively deal with the most important combinations of activities and pressures. 

To make marine management clearer and more effective, Marine SABRES is designing a more user-friendly framework called a simple 'socio-ecological system’ or ‘Simple SES’.


This will:


  • Enable managers to make sustainable decisions

  • Empower citizens to engage with marine biodiversity conservation

  • Promote sustainable development in coastal and marine sectors

  • Set European marine management on a course to reverse biodiversity decline


Why do we need a simple way to analyse & manage marine socio-ecological systems?

Socio-Ecological Systems (SES) are analytical models which aim to describe the components of, and interactions between, human systems and ecological systems. SES are used by managers and decision makers to support ecosystem-based management, which looks at all biological, social, and economic factors holistically, and aims to balance human well-being and economic activity with environmental protection and conservation. By considering the system as a whole (rather than focusing on the management of different sectors, needs, and pressures in isolation), targeted conservation and protection measures can be directed more effectively.

Current SES frameworks or models that support ecosystem-based management are complex — so much so that managers may not be inclined to use them. To encourage more widespread uptake of ecosystem-based management, a simpler system is needed to support managers in making decisions, particularly regarding the allocation of resources amongst competing priorities (e.g. renewable energy, fishing, development, conservation, flood protection).


This is how current SES feel.


This is how a simple SES should feel.


What will our simple Socio-Ecological System do?

Our Simple SES will:​

  • Merge different systems used across sectors (science, policy, socio-economic) to reach holistic management solutions.

  • Understand complex systems and identify the main drivers of biodiversity loss in areas with different levels of complexity. 

  • Integrate data and knowledge to understand the direct drivers of biodiversity decline and their interrelations. 

  • Develop and implement marine conservation interventions and policies.

  • Set conservation management objectives and goals, identifying barriers and developing holistic solutions.

With the help of stakeholders, the Marine SABRES project is focusing on designing a simple SES that is:


evidence-based through robust data


relevant and useable in the management process


based on data that is unbiased and gathered inclusively

We aim to deliver a simple SES that enables analysis of the marine system as a whole, but where the complexity is reduced enough that the system can be easily used in practical applications.

Where will the Simple SES be tested and implemented?


1 / The Tuscan Archipelago

Focusing on tourism and conservation of seagrass beds.


2 / Arctic Northeast Atlantic

Focusing on climate change and commercial fisheries.


3 / Macaronesia

Focusing on conservation, restoration, and ecotourism benefits.

Humpback Whales


Phase I

Phase I of the project will involve co-designing our simple socio-ecological system with stakeholders from diverse sectors and policy areas. The result will be a simple SES that is adaptable to different ecosystem and management challenges. 

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