German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)



Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) breaking the surface. Photo: K. Wollny-Goerke
Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) breaking the surface. Photo: K. Wollne-Goerke

An important element of marine monitoring is the long-term monitoring of marine vertebrates in the German Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ – the 12-200 mile zone). This is conducted jointly, on commission from the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), by the University of Kiel West Coast Research and Technology Centre (FTZ), the Deutsches Meeresmuseum, the University of Hamburg Institute for Hydrobiology and Fisheries Science and the Hannover University of Veterinary Medicine Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research (ITAW). The work is coordinated by the West Coast Research and Technology Centre in close consultation with BfN. The project builds on earlier monitoring programmes for marine mammals and seabirds, which it supplements in accordance with current European and international reporting requirements.

As marine vertebrate species mostly occupy high trophic levels in the marine food web and at the same time are exposed to many different environmental influences, they are well suited as indicators of the general condition of the marine environment.

Red-throated diver (Gavia stellata) in the North Sea. Photo: M. Putze
Red-throated diver (Gavia stellata) in the North Sea. Photo: M. Putze

Harbour porpoise and sea bird monitoring

The population sizes and the spatial and temporal distributions of cetaceans and sea birds are surveyed by regular vessel and aircraft-based counts along predetermined routes known as transects. In the Baltic Sea, harbour porpoise echolocation clicks are additionally monitored by a specially developed network of detectors. This data can also be used to infer spatial and temporal distributions, using statistical methods that are currently undergoing further refinement.

Monitoring by plane and boat takes extensive planning and is also heavily dependent on weather conditions. Flights and boat trips are planned in different project phases and performed on appropriate days within set periods over the course of the year. Because the methods for monitoring marine mammals and sea birds overlap only partly in terms of transect design, monitoring area and count periods, it is not currently possible to carry out monitoring in parallel.

Analysis of available fish data

BfN’s responsibilities do not extend to fish monitoring. However, available data regularly gathered by fisheries researchers is used to assess relevant fish and lamprey species (see Habitats Directive, HELCOM and OSPAR species). By comparing the findings with previous years, it is possible to determine population trends and identify both positive and negative developments. National and international nature conservation and management measures can be scientifically substantiated, planned and implemented on this basis.

Twait shad (Alosa fallax)
Twait shad  (Alosa fallax), Illustrations: Henrike Seibel

River lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis)
River lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis), Illustrations: Henrike Seibel
Sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus)
Sea lamprey   (Petromyzon marinus), Illustrations: Henrike Seibel

Twait shad (Alosa fallax), river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis) and sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) are Habitats Directive Annex II species. Illustrations: Henrike Seibel