Reporting on ecological seafloor features in marine protected area networks

Maritime spatial planning is a rapidly devloping area of marine management. The desire to develop the blue economy sector is one of the main drivers of this trend. Coupled with this development of this sector is the need for sustainability - with the protection of the marine environment, on which many of the blue economy sectors rely, of critical importance. Countries have committed to the protection of the marine environment with respect to number of issues. For example, through the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Target 11, countries have committed to the following

By 2020 […] 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are protected […]


In order for countries to understand how well they are achieving this target there is a need to identify which features important for biodiversity and ecosystem services are within their jurisdiction and what proportion of these are represented within the protected areas. BlueBRIDGE has addressed this need through implementation of the Protected Areas Impact Map (PAIM) VRE (See


The BlueBRIDGE best practice


The protected area impact maps VRE provides cloud-based visualization, analysis and reporting on important seafloor features in protected area networks at the country jurisdiction and ecoregion level.

It has been designed to provide the following:

  • Data and metadata access - data management and access is a key feature of the PAIM VRE. The VRE draws data from a number of sources to provide an integrated analysis environment. Each data set includes full metadata so that users can understand where the data comes from and its use constraints. Data is stored in Geoserver and retrieved through web services for visualization and analysis. The use of open geospatial consortium (OGS) compliant web services means that the data is accessible from both within the VRE as well as from external clients. For example, a user can download and run the analysis algorithm on their desktop computer.
  • Data visualisation -  the PAIM VRE uses web mapping technologies to display the spatial data in a number of contextual views. The data visualisations use the OGS web service standards to retrieve data and metadata. The MPA reporting application within the PAIM VRE provides a visual interface to drive the analysis. The Use is able to select a region for analysis from the map interface and then visualise the results both graphically and spatially.
  • Analysis - analysis within the PAIM VRE utilises custom scripts developed in R-Studio. R is a powerful statistical computing language that allows both statistical and spatial analysis. The algorithm developed for the PAIM VRE is open access and hosted in Git Hub ( The use of the R scripting language makes the algorithm accessible to a wide range of users.
  • Standardised reporting and visualisation of results - The final output of the PAIM VRE provides standardised reporting and visualisation of the results. All results are presented as interactive tables, charts and maps. These results can be downloaded as a pdf report, or as raw data tables for further analysis.

The Protected area impact maps VRE is targeted at marine managers, spatial planners and the scientific community. The VRE has been designed to make complex spatial analysis accessible to non-specialists thanks to the power of cloud computing and web mapping in delivering a user-friendly solution.


The PAIM VRE allows the end user to rapidly analyse the seafloor features represented within their protected area networks. This process, which would usually take a GIS specialist hours or days between compiling the data, running the analysis and collating the results can now be completed in seconds or minutes by a non-GIS specialist using the PAIM VRE. The reporting is standardised so that it is comparable at a global scale and directly applicable to country commitments on target 11 of the Aichi Convention on Biological Diversity.




Why this is considered a best practice

Best Practice Analysis


The PAIM VRE has been reviewed by the EC Joint Research Council. They have provided input as to the usability and functionality. They have also advised on the input data and processing to ensure that the PAIM VRE produces both accurate and relevant results to the end user.


The PAIM VRE is being leveraged by GRID-Arendal to support capacity-building projects around maritime spatial planning in Africa and the Pacific. The VRE makes both data and analysis capacity available to a wide audience. One of the main benefits of this approach is that users do not need to download gigabytes of data to set up complex data models in specialist GIS software. This is especially an advantage in countries where the internet and computing infrastructure are limited.

The PAIM VRE also reduces the need for specialist GIS software and expertise in order to understand which seafloor features are being represented in national MPA networks. This is an advantage for both marine managers, spatial planners and scientists in both developed and developing countries.

Success Factors

In order to achieve a high level of success for the PAIM VRE there are several requirements:

  • Functionality for the user to upload their own MPA networks and country/region specific data layers (for example the EMODnet seafloor data) for analysis
  • Continuous promotion amongst the community of users and feedback to improve usage of the application
  • Continued access to the application beyond the BlueBRIDGE project lifespan


In order for the PAIM VRE to be sustainable beyond the lifetime of the BlueBRIDGE project, several steps are needed.

  • Access to sustainable computing infrastructure (including a funding model to support that infrastructure)
  • Updates to key data (e.g. MPA data) to keep the analysis relevant
  • Updates to functionality, including more flexibility in the analysis and more features included in the analysis (for example inclusion of the EMODnet seafloor data)

Replicability and/or up-scaling

The aim is to go further than the section "Innovations / critical success factors" in specifying the requirements for replication of the practice on a larger scale (national, regional, international).

Lessons Learnt

The key lessons learned through the development of the PAIM VRE are related to data management and data access. The importance putting data owners in a position to provide data using OGS compliant web services cannot be understated. The use of these standards allows easy access and analysis of data from a variety of sources and circumvents the need for data to be centrally stored.

In addition, one of the major challenges in developing the PAIM VRE was related to data access: a considerable proportion of the data is not easily available or requires significant pre-analysis prior to ingestion in the VRE. The uptake of OGS web services by data custodians would greatly facilitate the ingestion of data in the VRE.

Several of the key data sources will be routinely updated, for example the global Marine Protected Area layer is regularly updated to account for newly declared protected areas. This layer also requires significant pre-processing prior to the analysis. There is a need to develop better pathways to ingest and pre-process this data. Currently the PAIM VRE relies on the efforts of EC JRC to provide a cleaned version of this data for ingestion.