German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)

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Benthic species and habitats


Sandbanks alternate with reef structures in the Borkum Reef Ground SAC. Photo: BfN
Sandbanks alternate with reef structures in the Borkum Reef Ground SAC. Photo: BfN

Seabed (benthic) habitats are targeted by measures to conserve natural diversity and are key elements in the assessment of marine ecological status under multiple European directives and regional marine conventions. The most important legislation when it comes to the German Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea consists of the Habitats Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).


The MSFD divides benthic habitats into ‘predominant’ and ‘special’ habitat types. Habitat types classified as being of special conservation value or as vulnerable in the German North Sea and Baltic Sea EEZ include the sandbank and reef habitat types under the Habitats Directive along with others that are protected under regional agreements (OSPAR and HELCOM) and national law (section 30 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act/BNatSChG). They can be grouped into four habitat complexes:

  • Seegrass beds and other macrophyte fields (EEZ Baltic Sea only, reef-associated)
  • Coarse sand and shell gravel bottoms (North Sea and Baltic Sea)
  • Muddy bottoms with burrowing megafauna (North Sea only)
  • Baltic Sea aphotic zone muddy bottoms dominated by Arctica islandica (Baltic Sea only)

In 2011, the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation tasked the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde (IOW) and its cooperation partner the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) with initiating and establishing a benthic monitoring programme that meets the requirements of the directives and conventions applicable in the German North Sea and Baltic Sea EEZ. As well as conceptual development and refinement of the monitoring programme, the project also includes practical implementation and the development and adaptation of suitable assessment indices.

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