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Symphony – a tool for ecosystem-based marine spatial planning

Symphony is a planning tool to be used in the Swedish marine spatial planning in order to understand and illustrate the environmental pressure on ecological values. Symphony helps us to develop marine plans based on an ecosystem approach.

What is Symphony?

Symphony is a tool that allows us to assess the cumulative environmental impact from different plan options in the marine spatial planning (MSP) process. Cumulative environmental impact refers to the combined pressure from all kinds of different human activities on the marine ecosystems. The cumulative impact is eventually what determines the health of ecosystems.

Why is Symphony needed?

As we are developing marine spatial plans we need a tool helping us to find out where we have particularly high cumulative environmental impact and we need to be able to compare different plan alternatives. Parts of this information are achieved from the environmental impact assessments, which are developed aligned to the plans. Symphony is used as a more spatially resolved, quantitative and integrated complement.

Symphony analyses will be used both for planners in their drafting of different plan options and as information shared with stakeholders in the consultation process. The Symphony impact maps will be used within the problem solving stakeholder dialogue as a facilitator in the search of environmentally acceptable solutions.

Symphony is transparent and straightforward and is based on scientific methods.

In parallel to the development of Symphony for Swedish MSP, Helcom applies a similar approach in their holistic assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS). In addition, the basic method behind Symphony has been used for cumulative impact assessments in several other parts of the world. The main difference between Symphony and the other applications is that Symphony is developed for and adapted to integrated use within MSP.

How Symphony works

In Symphony we calculate the cumulative impact from the sum or the average of all pressures’ effect on all considered ecosystem values (ecosystem components). The particular sensitivity of each ecosystem component to each pressure is accounted for. This calculation is done for every cell within the Swedish territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with a resolution of 250 by 250 meters. Despite the high spatial resolution the results are interpreted at a more coarse level given the many uncertainties in data. The impact values can be illustrated in color, in order to facilitate interpretation. One color for high impact, another for low impact and so on.

The method can be summarized in five steps:

  1. 1. Ecosystem components

We develop distribution maps of ecosystem components, based on compilations of already existing data. In Symphony we include about 25 different ecosystem components. For example cod, porpoise, seal, spawning areas and mussel reefs.

  1. 2. Pressures

We develop marine pressure maps, showing the spatial extent of pressures from human activities. Pressures from activities governed by the MSP are then aligned with the respective user areas in the plans on order to study the impact of drafted plans and enable comparisons of different plan alternatives. In Symphony we include about 30 different pressures. For example fish catch, sediment spill, underwater noise, oil spills. These pressures are in turn related to human activities such as fishing, dredging and shipping. In Symphony we also include land-based pressures such as eutrophication and pollution because they all contribute to the cumulative impact in the sea.

  1. 3. Sensitivity matrix
  1. We develop a matrix describing how sensitive each ecosystem component is to each of the pressures. This sensitivity matrix is based on expert opinion, collected through questioners sent out to regional scholars in marine ecology and equivalent. For example, porpoises are more sensitive than seals to underwater noise.
    1. 4. Baseline results
  1. The cumulative impact is calculated for every geographic unit, using the equations below. This represents the impact in the current situation.
  1. 5. MSP results and iterations

The result is interpreted and recalculated for different plan options in order to compare alternatives and find plausible solutions. The specific impact contribution from different sectors can be calculated and compared for a given area. The results are used iteratively in the planning process with the goal of sustainable marine plans.

Method and development

Symphony is based on spatial information represented in maps. Since data are often scarce under water models have been used for extrapolation. Model assumptions and uncertainties are well described in our metadata and uncertainty maps.

Most maps are based entirely on preexisting data, meaning that we have utilized the heaps of work and investments undertaken by previous research and monitoring studies. The synthesizing work within Symphony is carried out in collaboration between SwAM and several other governmental bodies, universities and consultancies. Analyses are ran in software EcoImpacMapper and SeaSketch.

Ekvation Symphony

Cumulative impact (P) is calculated as the sum or mean of the product of all pressures’ (B) effect on all ecosystem components (E), given the particular sensitivity (K) of every ecosystem component to every pressure.

The basic methodology behind Symphony is derived from scientific work on Cumulative Impact Assessments, first developed by Benjamin S. Halpern et al. in a Science publication from 2008 (vol 319). In Symphony we take the application of this method a step further, into a thorough integration with ecosystem based marine spatial planning.

For quality assurance as we develop and implement Symphony, we seek guidance from experts at

Time plan and access to data

Symphony will be operational in the national Swedish marine spatial planning from June 2017. We will then use Symphony to analyze the drafted plans and their different alternatives with aspect on cumulative environmental impact, as an integrated part of the planning process.

A report explaining the Symphony tool and method is scheduled for December 2017 and underlying data will be made publicly available on this web page in October 2017, according to plan.

We hope and foresee that Symphony will turn out to be a valuable tool for ecosystem based marine spatial planning. If so, we will continue to update the underlying data and the development of the method.

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Published: 2017-03-23

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