‘Tipping points’ lead to irreversible changes – climate experts
by Sarah Wild
With around 70% of the planet’s surface covered by ocean, the EU’s mission to restore our oceans and waters focuses on positive action to restore marine ecosystems, eliminate pollution and make our blue economy neutral. carbon and circular. To mark World Oceans Day on June 8, Horizon Magazine is diving into two collaborative projects aimed at achieving the first of these ambitious goals.
Beneath the silky waters of the ocean, ecosystems as we know them are disappearing. From overfishing and deep sea mining to climate change, human activity is degrading the vital ecosystems that allow our oceans to function. On World Oceans Day, the United Nations calls for concerted action to protect the world’s oceans and, ultimately, our planet.
Around the world, countries, communities and researchers are already working to repair the damage caused by human activity to our seas and oceans. But, first, they must tackle the scale of the problem.
This is what Mission Atlantic proposes to do. The project maps, models and assesses the ecosystems of the Atlantic Ocean and identifies the main threats to them, in collaboration with 34 partners in several countries and around 150 principal researchers.
Patrizio Mariani is Project Coordinator at Mission Atlantic and Ocean Technology Specialist at the Technical University of Denmark. “The diversity we have in the Atlantic is just huge,” he said, “and the unknowns we have are also very, very large.”
The Atlantic Ocean covers about one-fifth of the Earth’s surface, touching four continents with millions of people who directly depend on it for their livelihoods.
“There has been a lot of discussion about holistic or systematic approaches to marine ecosystems and considering all the elements that impact an ecosystem,” Mariani said. But there are few examples of such approaches being implemented. Mission Atlantic aims to “put things together and understand the feedback and complexity of the system”.
Scientists, managers and stakeholders come from Brazil, South Africa, North America and the European Union. The project brings them together to map the pressures of human activity and their consequences on the Atlantic ecosystem.
The research applies a framework called Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (IEA) to seven different sites in the Atlantic. First adopted by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), IEAs are an ecosystem-based approach to managing marine environments. Scientists are conducting IEAs in the Atlantic to identify different human behaviors and link these activities to their consequences on ecosystems. EIAs are designed to answer certain questions, according to Mariani, such as “What pressures are we generating in an area and what components of the ecosystem are affected?”
For some sites, like the Norwegian Sea to the north or the Benguela Current just off the coast of South Africa, it is relatively easy to link human activities to a particular nation or group of countries. But two of the project’s case studies are on the high seas, which creates exciting opportunities for advancing science but also challenges, Mariani said.
“(On the high seas), we mainly deal with international waters. There is not always good mapping of human activities and there are not always clear regulations. But these are very important areas because they are usually biodiversity hotspots and they are really exposed to ocean conditions,” he said.
oceans of data
Scientists need to understand how ocean conditions change over time. To create a complete picture, the project uses numerical models to generate this data, spanning from 1980 to 2030. But there are many gaps, so the team is collecting ocean data to validate their models.
“We are now inputting data, analyzing time series and mapping many ecosystem components at the scale of the entire Atlantic Ocean,” he said. Using the latest technology, scientists are studying biodiversity hotspots, sending autonomous wave gliders (a type of ocean robot) to the depths of the Atlantic to gather data, and even listening to the whispers of the ocean. with acoustic readings at different frequencies.
While scientists are eager to investigate the mysteries of the Atlantic, Mission Atlantic’s ultimate goal is to help countries, industries and people deal with the ocean in a sustainable way. When the project ends in 2025, the team plans to offer decision-makers a summary of their findings as well as tools to help them make decisions.
These tools will help countries decide “If I (make) this area a protected area, what will happen to the (fish), or if I start exploiting this area for energy, what will happen it from dependent communities,” Mariani said. Preliminary findings from Mission Atlantic are already helping Brazilian authorities decide where to locate their marine reserves.
Once researchers have assessed the environmental damage underwater, the next step is to restore degraded ecosystems and halt their decline.
Beneath the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, for example, brown forest cover supports a world of biodiversity. Made up of brown seaweed called Cystosere, these forests provide food and nutrients for plants and animals, absorb carbon, and create safe nurseries for juvenile marine species. The danger is real, as human activities have destroyed more than 80% of the normally productive macroalgae forests in the Mediterranean. It is almost impossible for these forests to rejuvenate when their populations die out locally.
“The degree of damage to marine ecosystems is increasing and is now reaching enormous dimensions,” said Professor Roberto Danovaro, an ecologist at the Polytechnic University of Marche in Italy.
But Danovaro and a team of researchers are finding ways to restore these vital habitats. The AFRIMED project aims to seed new forests and resuscitate these marine ecosystems, stemming from the €6.7 million MERCES project to restore marine ecosystems, which assessed different degraded European marine ecosystems.
AFRIMED seeks to identify kelp forest restoration areas, test technologies to restore these locations, and ultimately develop a step-by-step guide on how to rebuild these valuable ecosystems.
“The groundwork starts with understanding how many of these habitats were lost, when and why,” said Danovaro, project coordinator. “Second, you need to understand if there has been a species change. For example, there may be macroalgae there, but they are not the same. A third problem is how to practically do the restoration.
Restoration is tricky – simply transplanting algae can strip other vulnerable habitats and not all algae (there are dozens of species of Cystosere) can survive by living in another location. “Finding a good place to eat is (also) essential,” he said. “If you find a place that is still under pressure, the restoration may fail.”
In some places, the researchers have been able to grow new algae recruits on rocks and other surfaces which they can then move to the bare habitat. In other cases, AFRIMED members have grown the algae in the lab and transplanted it to its new home.
“It’s truly interdisciplinary work,” said Dr Silvia Bianchelli, a researcher at the Polytechnic University of Marche. “We need an algae expert, an ecosystem expert, an environmental conditions expert, and also a lab technician.”
However, this goes beyond interdisciplinary work. Nations, their industries and their citizens will have to work together to preserve their common resources – and the Mediterranean itself.
“Restoration is not just a scientific or ecological process,” Bianchelli said. “It involves socio-economic components. So (as) scientific teams work on ecological restoration, they must also involve many stakeholders. A successful restoration must first stop the anthropogenic pressure.
The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally publishedin Skylinethe european magazine for research and innovation.