Science Advisory Report  2011/049

Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas – Lessons Learned


  • Applying the three primary criteria of uniqueness, aggregation, and fitness consequences has worked well in the past and can be expanded to other areas. A functional overlap often exists between the criteria, especially between aggregation and fitness consequences. However, this is not considered a liability that would require adjustments to previous guidance.
  • Uniqueness should always be assessed relative to the boundaries at which the criteria are being applied, and evaluated at a spatial scale relevant to policy and management.
  • In general, application of the aggregation criterion has been straightforward, especially when related to life history processes such as spawning and migration.
  • The fitness consequences criterion has been more challenging to apply, since there is often insufficient information to be sure all areas important to fitness were identified.
  • Naturalness and resilience are not intended to be used as the sole basis for the identification of EBSAs, but rather serve as a key consideration in prioritizing EBSAs.
  • Guidance is provided on approaches to ensure consistency in use of information layers used for identification of EBSAs, and for collection and use of SEK/TEK/LEK.  Each data/knowledge/information layer must be accompanied by information on data sources, uncertainties, and weightings, if any.
  • EBSAs need to be re-evaluated over time. To the extent that drivers of temporal changes in the biological features triggering the EBSA criteria are known or suspected, advice on EBSAs should also describe the specific factors that may require re-evaluation, along with potential timelines for future evaluations. EBSA identification processes must also be revisited when something relevant is known to have changed and when new relevant types of information become available.
  • Extended guidance is given on appropriate uses of information in data-poor situations,
  • The EBSA criteria are generally applicable to freshwater and coastal habitats, just as they are in the offshore applications. However, some ecological functions and processes in these systems differ from comparable ones in marine systems, and guidance is provided on how these differences should be accommodated in the EBSA evaluation process.
  • Simply reporting fixed boundaries for EBSAs loses information that may be valuable for management, so advice should indicate the number and type of ecosystem properties/components contributing to each spatial geographic unit at which the evaluation was done. Such maps should be produced and presented separately for each of the core EBSA criteria.
  • There is currently very little guidance on how to use EBSAs in policy and management outside of the development of MPA networks. However, EBSAs are increasingly being used in contexts outside of MPA networks. Guidance is needed for the application of EBSAS in a consistent and efficient manner for the diversity of management situations in different sectors.

This Science Advisory Report is from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, National advisory meeting held May 19-20, 2011 on Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas – Lessons Learned.  Additional publications from this process will be posted as they become available on the DFO Science Advisory Schedule.

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