How we do it: Harmonizing definitions

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One task that the SEAmBOTH project took part in solving was trying to harmonize the use of different Natura 2000 nature type descriptions between Finland and Sweden.

Yes, there are official descriptions of the nature types from the EU. Yes, there are official translations and national adaptations to the special conditions of the Baltic Sea. But NO, even the national definitions don’t really match the nature in the Northernmost part of the Baltic Sea and NO, the two countries don’t really interpret everything the same way.

If the name of the nature type is “Tidal mudflats”, Finland says that “We don’t have a tide = We don’t have tidal mudflats” and Sweden says “We have tide on our West coast and significant water level changes on the Northeast coast = we have tidal mudflats”. If the name of the nature type is “Sandbanks” and the official description tells us that they are “predominantly less than 20 m deep and always covered by water, and they might have vegetation like Ruppia ssp.”, Finland asks “Can the sand be moving, and we don’t have Ruppia ssp. all the way up to the North”, while Sweden says “Do the sandbanks have to rise from the seabed or can they just be flat”. And if the name of the nature type is “Reefs” and they should be covered in a succession of filamentous algal zones and bladder wrack and blue mussels, we in the North of the Bothnian Bay ask: “What about our naked reefs? We don’t have bladder wrack or blue mussels here because of the low salinity, and we don’t have a zonation of benthic organisms. Are they still called reefs, or are they just piles of rock?”

At the same time, if a marine biologist dives underwater and tries to think hard, is she diving on a sandbank or is this just a pile of sand but not a sandbank by definition, or a GIS-planner is looking at a map and trying to decide, where to draw the digitalized boundaries of a river estuary. And the definitions become even more relevant when we try to create joint maps from Finland to Sweden and the nature types should be defined exactly the same way. At the same time, there are political decisions behind all this.

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Workshop session. Photo by Essi Keskinen.

Where does this leave Nature? It leaves Nature to be whatever it is – there will be sand and Chara aspera here, whether it should be called a sandbank or not. There grows Sparganium -species in very low salinity water at the delta of that river, whether it should be called an estuary or not. The Nature doesn’t care about definitions. It’s we marine biologists, politicians, environmental bureaucrats and decision makers who need to draw the lines on the map, even though sometimes the lines are fuzzy and the boundaries and overlapping between nature types is wide.

 

Written by Essi Keskinen

 

 

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