Water column habitats

Water column habitats create the foundation for marine food webs, home to primary producers such as phytoplankton and microbes. These habitats are highly dynamic and exhibit swift responses to environmental variables such as large phytoplankton blooms. Water column habitats are crucial to understand as they form the largest ecosystem on Earth, encompassing 99% of the total biosphere volume.

According to the MSFD initial assessment, 71 % of the water column habitats in the Baltic Sea were not in good environmental status. Conversely, in the Mediterranean Sea, 46 % of the water column habitats were assessed as good. Incomplete data left the Black Sea and the North-east Atlantic Ocean unaccounted for as either 'not reported' or 'unknown'.

Several pressures influences water column habitats e.g. extraction of fish and shellfish, introduction of non-indigenous species, and marine litter

Photo: Phytoplankton bloom off the southern coast of England, North-east Atlantic Ocean.

Source: © United States Geological Survey Landsat image, courtesy of the Nature and Environment Research Council Earth Observation Data Acquisition and Analysis Service, Plymouth, United Kingdom.

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Relevant MSFD Descriptors

Descriptor 1. Biodiversity is maintained

 The quality and occurrence of habitats and the distribution and abundance of species are in line with prevailing physiographic, geographic and climatic conditions.

Descriptor 4. Elements of food webs ensure long-term abundance and reproduction

All elements of the marine food webs, to the extent that they are known, occur at normal abundance and diversity and levels capable of ensuring the long-term abundance of the species and the retention of their full reproductive capacity

Descriptor 6. The sea floor integrity ensures functioning of the ecosystem

Sea-floor integrity is at a level that ensures that the structure and functions of the ecosystems are safeguarded and benthic ecosystems, in particular, are not adversely affected.