Science Advisory Report 2017/013
Application of a framework to assess vulnerability of biological components to ship-source oil spills in the marine environment in the Pacific Region
- In support of the development of a timely and informed response to ship-source oil spills in the Pacific region, DFO Science developed the ‘National Framework to Assess the Vulnerability of Biological Components to Ship-source Oil Spills in the Marine Environment’ (hereafter termed the ‘framework’) which was reviewed through a CSAS National Peer Review in March 2016 (Thornborough et al., 2017).
- The framework uses a structured method to identify the biological components most vulnerable to a ship-source oil spill utilising a suite of criteria and a screening and ranking process. DFO’s Oceans Branch requested that Science Branch provide an adaptation and application of this framework to the Pacific region.
- The scope of the framework is limited to considering only the direct effects of oil. It was not designed to incorporate potentially significant indirect and food web effects such as consumption of contaminated food sources (e.g. contaminated plankton impacts on baleen whales), or cumulative effects from multiple stressors. Furthermore, this application is limited to marine biological components within DFO’s jurisdiction in the Pacific region. However, it serves as an example of a method that could be applicable to biological components in other jurisdictions (e.g. marine birds).
- All marine biological components within DFO’s mandate in the Pacific region are represented by sub-groups containing one or more species. The sub-groups described for the Pacific region application of the framework were developed through iterative changes in parallel with scoring. The proposed sub-groups are considered appropriate to represent the suite of on-shelf biota in the Pacific region, while also providing sufficient discrimination for scoring the vulnerability criteria.
- Some biological groups in the framework required considerable changes to sub-group breakdown when adapted for the Pacific region (i.e. marine fishes and marine algae/plants), whereas other biological groups required little to no changes (i.e. marine mammals, marine reptiles, marine invertebrates). Modifications to the sub-groups outlined in the framework were clearly stated and justified to facilitate comparable exercises in other regions.
- The following major changes were made to three of the vulnerability criteria in this pilot application of the framework to the Pacific region:
- Two criteria in the sensitivity category (‘loss of insulation’ and ‘reduction of feeding/photosynthesis’) were merged into a single criterion named ‘mechanical sensitivity (reduction in feeding/ photosynthesis/insulation)’ because both criteria capture impacts to energetics.
- Within the exposure category of criteria, site fidelity was moved from the aggregation/concentration criterion to the mobility criterion to capture mobile species with very limited home ranges.
- The name of a criterion within the exposure category was expanded from ‘interaction with sediment’ to ‘seafloor or vegetation interacting’ to address the fact that oil can also persist in consolidated sediments and result in exposure.
This Science Advisory Report is from the September 14-15, 2016 Evaluation of Pacific Region application of a National Framework to assess the vulnerability of biological components to ship-source oil spills in the marine environment. Additional publications from this meeting will be posted on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Science Advisory Schedule as they become available.
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