Technical report 125

Ecosystem-level protection goals

The importance of protecting ecosystem services (or amenities) from chemical exposure has been recognised for several decades. For instance, the UN’s Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution (GESAMP, 1986) defined marine pollution as: “The introduction by man, directly or indirectly, of substances or energy into the marine environment (including estuaries), which results in such deleterious effects as harm to living resources, hazards to human health, hindrance to marine activities including fishing, impairment of quality for use of sea water and reduction of amenities”. This definition is largely unchanged under the current EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) (2008/56/EC). A key point, which should be noted, is that chemicals only form part of these ecosystem service protection goals.

Despite the maturity of the ecosystem service concept and its relevance to environmental regulation, current definitions of ecosystem-level protection goals in ERA remain blurred. For example, the protection of ecosystem structure and function are both commonly referred to in EU environmental and chemical regulations (Figure 3.1, Table C1.1). Whilst ecosystem structure and function (and resilience / integrity) are intrinsically linked (Malawi Principle 5: CBD SBSTTA, 2000), protection of ecosystem function (underpinning ecosystem services) takes into account functional redundancies among similar species, whereas the explicit protection of ecosystem structure is more demanding (EFSA, 2014b). By focusing on functional groups or ‘service-providing units’ (SPUs), the derivation of ecosystem service protection goals is undoubtedly more transparent than attempting to protect all species’ populations, everywhere, all of the time (as is the current paradigm, involving extrapolation from tests on model species to all species in the field (Section 3.1.1)).

The use of an ecosystem service approach also has the advantage that trade-offs, spatial scales and redundancies are considered collectively in ERAs (EFSA, 2010).