A spatial risk approach towards integrated marine spatial planning: A case study on European hake nursery areas in the North Alboran Sea
Europe's Blue Growth strategy promotes the intensification of human activities at sea and increases the environmental risk such as the decline of the provision of key ecosystem services and potential conflicts among human activities. The fishing sector, in the Alboran Sea, is economically and culturally one of the most important and relies on overexploited target species such as European hake (Merlucius merlucius). Here we identified and quantified the impact of human pressures on the capacity of marine habitats to support the provision of food as an important ecosystem service. We modelled the spatial distribution of nursery areas of European hake in the Alboran Sea, using General Additive Models (GAM) and overlaid those with European Nature Information System (EUNIS) habitats. A sensitivity analysis of hake nursery areas to cumulative human impacts identified the Bay of Malaga as the most sensitive area with trawling frequencies up to 60 times higher than the habitats recovery time. Further, we identified an increased conflict potential among human activities such as trawling and extraction with the presence of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which provide MPAs a high vulnerability similar to that found in unprotected areas. Future scenarios considering the increase of renewable energy and alternative food production show conflicts between aquaculture and MPAs as well as offshore wind farms and offshore shipping. Hence, our results show strong arguments for an integrated spatial management approach, including benthic trawling. We also suggest restricting trawling activities inside MPAs to safeguard the habitats capacity to support ecosystem services. Our spatially explicit assessment framework is transparent and transferable to other Mediterranean regions. Thus, it can function as a model on how to incorporate cumulative effect assessments in marine spatial planning processes.