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155921 - Identifying vulnerable marine ecosystems.pdf (4.69 MB)

Identifying vulnerable marine ecosystems: an image-based vulnerability index for the Southern Ocean seafloor

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 17:09 authored by Charley GrosCharley Gros, Jan JansenJan Jansen, Candice Untiedt, Pearman, TRR, Downey, R, Barnes, DKA, Bowden, DA, Dirk Welsford, Nicole HillNicole Hill
A significant proportion of Southern Ocean seafloor biodiversity is thought to be associated with fragile, slow growing, long-lived, and habitat-forming taxa. Minimizing adverse impact to these so-called vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) is a conservation priority that is often managed by relying on fisheries bycatch data, combined with threshold-based conservation rules in which all “indicator” taxa are considered equal. However, VME indicator taxa have different vulnerabilities to fishing disturbance and more consideration needs to be given to how these taxa may combine to form components of ecosystems with high conservation value. Here, we propose a multi-criteria approach to VME identification that explicitly considers multiple taxa identified from imagery as VME indicator morpho-taxa. Each VME indicator morpho-taxon is weighted differently, based on its vulnerability to fishing. Using the “Antarctic Seafloor Annotated Imagery Database”, where 53 VME indicator morpho-taxa were manually annotated generating >40000 annotations, we computed an index of cumulative abundance and overall richness and assigned it to spatial grid cells. Our analysis quantifies the assemblage-level vulnerability to fishing, and allows assemblages to be characterized, e.g. as highly diverse or highly abundant. The implementation of this quantitative method is intended to enhance VME identification and contextualize the bycatch events.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

ICES Journal of Marine Science






Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Academic Press Ltd Elsevier Science Ltd

Place of publication

24-28 Oval Rd, London, England, Nw1 7Dx

Rights statement

© The Author(s) 2023. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Assessment and management of Antarctic and Southern Ocean ecosystems; Biodiversity in Antarctic and Southern Ocean environments; Assessment and management of benthic marine ecosystems

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