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Research Document - 2005/032

Assessing Marine Habitat Sensitivity: A case study with eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) and kelps (Laminaria, Macrocystis)

By Vandermeulen, H.


The definition of ‘habitat sensitivity’ used in this paper follows the ICES (2002) definition - “Habitat sensitivity can be defined in relation to the degree and duration of damage caused by a specified external factor. Sensitivity may refer to structural fragility of the entire habitat in relation to a physical impact, or to intolerance of individual species comprising the habitat to environmental factors, such as exposure, salinity fluctuations or temperature variation.” The objective of this working paper is to quantify the ‘sensitivity’ of selected marine macrophytes (eelgrass and kelps) against various chemical, biological and physical factors. Thresholds at which the plants begin to suffer are tabulated.

Both eelgrass and kelps are sensitive habitats, and eelgrass is more sensitive than kelp. More studies are required to help define kelp sensitivity accurately.

Present finfish cage aquaculture practices in Canada have the potential to negatively impact both eelgrass and kelps (eelgrass in particular). A ‘zone’ model is presented to help guide future research on this topic.

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