Ecosystem Assessment

Marine and coastal datasets can help users understand biological, ecological and oceanographic characteristics of a feature of interest. Relevant data are essential to assess and respond to changes in condition.

Global resources Regional resources


Limited access to the data required to track long-term changes in marine and coastal ecosystems or species can make it difficult to assess changes in condition, and to respond with appropriate and timely management measures.

Effective measurements of biodiversity change require a clear understanding of the biological and ecological characteristics of the feature of interest, and the appropriate scale and time frames over which a significant change in health and condition would occur.

To achieve this, the development and use of biodiversity indicators can help to implement appropriate monitoring initiatives and determine targeted management outcomes, for example the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity.

A biodiversity indicator is 'a measure based on verifiable data that conveys information about more than itself'. Indicators can thus be used to inform decision-making and adaptive management.

Global datasets are frequently collated from multiple sources over various time frames and often have gaps in coverage, and therefore are not always suitable for use in assessments of changes to an ecosystem. However, they do offer an understanding of the state of our knowledge with regards to the locations and extent of marine and coastal biodiversity globally, and can be complemented or ground-truthed through in-situ data collected at the local or national scale.

In some cases, globally-consistent datasets can be used to develop global indicators, such as those hosted by the Biodiversity Indicators Partnership, which can be used to track progress towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Case Studies

Marine and coastal biodiversity data can be used alongside other datasets to support assessments of ecosystems services and natural capital. To date, those hosted on the Ocean Data Viewer have been used by:

  • Governmental and not-for-profit organisations, research institutions and academics to assess the vulnerability, diversity, and threats facing ecosystems and species at national and regional scales, often used alongside other datasets (e.g. IUCN Red List) and to produce reports (e.g. National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans).
  • Not-for-profit organisations and research institutions to overlay habitat data with species distributions (e.g. corals, birds, or larvae data, or information on migratory routes) or protected area data, and to use in conjunction with climate data to model current and future habitat suitability (e.g. for shorebirds).
  • Not-for-profit organisations and research institutions to assess connectivity between habitats at the national level.

Tools & Resources

Various tools and resources exist which may be useful for finding out more about, or supporting, ecosystem assessments.

Sub-Global Assessment Network

The Sub-Global Assessment Network (SGAN) is a community of practice, creating a common platform for ecosystem assessment practitioners at sub-global scales (regional, sub-regional, national, sub-national). The platform builds capacity through: training opportunities and e-learning tools; capturing, synthesising and disseminating examples of best practices and lessons learned; supporting knowledge exchange; and helping to build links within the scientific community.

Resource type: Web platform

Further information

Biodiversity Indicators Partnership

The Biodiversity Indicators Partnership (BIP) brings together a host of international organisations working on the development of indicators to provide the best available information on biodiversity indicators and trends.

Resource type: Web platform

Further information

Guidance for National Biodiversity Indicator Development and Use (Biodiversity Indicators Partnership)

This guidance document is designed to help the development of biodiversity indicators at the national level for uses such as reporting, policy-making, environmental management, and education. The document has been separated into two clear sections: the first defines what indicators are and how they may be used, while the second is organised around the Biodiversity Indicator Development Framework and presents a series of key steps in successful indicator development.

Resource type: Document

Further information


Species+, developed by UNEP-WCMC and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat, is a website designed to assist Parties with implementing CITES, the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) and other multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). Species+ provides a centralised portal for accessing key information on species of global concern.

Resource type: Web platform

Further information

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We are aiming to update this website with new entries on a quarterly basis.