Habitat loss is one of the most pervasive threats to the diversity, structure and functioning of coastal ecosystems and the goods and services they provide. In the Mediterranean Sea, macroalgal forests represent one of the most valuable, but rapidly disappearing habitats. Whilst there is evidence that this general trend can still be reversed, we need more powerful tools to address the issue and bring about the change required.
Beside AFRIMED, other international projects are ongoing aiming at restoring marine ecosystems and macroalgal forests among them. The EU funded MERCES project seeks to revise current concepts and understand restoration, recovery and human-mediated modification of coastal ecosystems. The project has pushed forward current knowledge of marine restoration techniques and is producing novel and critical information relating to best practices across different habitats and ecosystems, including Cystoseira. Similarly, the Life ROC-POP (Promoting biodiversity enhancement by Restoration Of Cystoseira POPulations, LIFE16 NA T/IT/000816) project is seeking to reintroduce two Cystoseira spp. within protected sites (e.g. MPAs, Natura 2000 sites, etc.).
In AFRIMED, capitalising on the experience gained and the knowledge accumulated in these and other projects, the consortium will improve existing, and develop new restoration techniques to efficiently restore degraded macroalgal forests. The project will involve a combination of spatial analysis, laboratory studies, pilot actions in the field and awareness raising among blue growth sectors, the general public and decision makers according to the following steps:
– Aggregating and standardising historical and contemporary spatial data in order to produce a “map of the distribution and status of Cystoseiramacroalgal forests” at Mediterranean scale. This information, combined with already existing maps of cumulative impacts for the Mediterranean Sea, will be used to identify priority areas in need of restoration.
– Building on the results from MERCES and ROC-POP Life, experiments in mesocosms will be carried out on a selection of Cystoseiraspecies in order to improve current knowledge of the species studied in MERCES (e.g.C. amentacea, C. barbata, C. zosteroides) and other key Cystoseira spp.. Specifically, the experiments will determine the relative vulnerability and tolerances of specific biological traits to drivers of change across the Mediterranean basin. Furthermore, as climatic changes are expected to impact Cystoseira spp. AFRIMED will develop a series of innovative experiments in order to explore and account for foreseen thermal changes in the region. Accounting also for contextual and climatic changes, information is severely lacking on choosing where to conduct restoration actions, which species to restore and deciding which approaches are most suitable. At present, only generic approaches are commonly used in all contexts, and this decreases the efficiency and success rate of restoration activities at a local scale. Consequently, this step will significantly develop the scientific understanding of these factors, to the benefit of this project and those that will follow.
– The implementation of restoration actions in pilot areas will provide the knowledge and experience required to develop concrete and ecologically sound techniques to allow restoration actions to be successfully scaled up. Restoration of Cystoseira species will be carried out using innovative techniques (e.g. novel eco-sustainable substrates for facilitating restoration), taking into account local drivers (e.g. herbivory) that impair the success of the restoration. The pilot examples will be carried in 1-the Marine Protected Area of Torre Guaceto, 2- the Site of National Interest of Bagnoli-Coroglio and the Natura 2000 site 3-Portonovo bay. Pilot joint actions will be carried out also in Albania, Morocco and Tunisia. Pilot restoration examples will help to regenerate ecosystems, develop knowledge, stimulate the delivery of ecosystem services and strengthen current conservation activities in the regions.
– Quantification of ecosystem service change that arise through restoration interventions. Subsequently, the cost-effectiveness of the restoration intervention will be determined in order to identify which methods are most cost-effective at generating benefits for society. Restoration is an expensive and labour intensive activity, which may or may not work or be the best course of action in certain areas. Consequently, exploring the cost-effectiveness of our actions will provide invaluable guidance to those wishing to replicate similar activities elsewhere.
– Interaction with stakeholders (regulating authorities, decision-makers, managers, scientists, consulting offices, industries, and several users of ecosystem services such as fishermen and the tourism industry) will take place at all stages of the project. Dedicated events will be organised to develop a shared vision of the restoration of marine forests and highlight and promote the multitude of benefits (ecological and socio-economic) it provides. This will help develop and implement relevant strategies/initiatives; create “buy-in” from local communities; develop partnerships and prepare the ground for future investments in marine coastal restoration; the creation of a “business club” involving stakeholders and local communities for sharing opportunities and building consensus for the AFRIMED restoration actions. This follows the success of a similar initiative within MERCES.
– Dissemination: in order to be effective and bring about “real-world” change, the conservation and management of marine resources requires buy-in and support of a diverse group of stakeholders. Communicating the ocean’s influence on “you” and “your” influence on the ocean via an ocean literacy approach is essential to achieving this and is a prominent part of the strategy to promote effective and sustainable restoration activities across Mediterranean countries. This will involve the development and dissemination of targeted materials and the communication of on-going activities and results through social media and other relevant channels.
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