Modern classifications of coastal marine communities in the NE Atlantic

The classification systems described above have provided a useful working framework for a number of years. However, these systems concentrate mainly on soft bottom communities and the north-east Atlantic region still lacks a comprehensive classification of benthic marine biotopes (i.e. habitats and their associated species) that encompasses intertidal and sublittoral, rocky and sedimentary ecosystems. The littoral zone has been well studied over the years. Hoewever, it is only in the past 20 years or so that we have seen a rapid increase in our knowledge of shallow rocky sublittoral ecosystems through the use of divers. In the UK various ways of recording littoral and sublittoral habitats and species in a standard format have been developed and a large number of data has been accumulated.

Attempts are now being made by the UK government's Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC, see Appendix 4), to develop such a comprehensive classification of marine biotopes in UK coastal waters using a computerized database (Hiscock, 1996; JNCC, 1996). One of the main aims is to provide a meaningful structure on which to base a conservation strategy for the marine environment. This is likely to be adopted as a standard for northern European waters. The system is intended to be practical and to be of use to anyone involved in descriptive surveys. For further information, students should contact JNCC directly (see Appendix 4). Increased use is now being made of underwater photography to help in descriptive surveys and a number of photographic guides to seabed habitats and biotopes are now available (Earll, 1992).

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