Developing a clearer understanding of ocean ecosystems
The EU-funded HERMIONE project ('Hotspot Ecosystem Research and Man's Impact on European Seas') has contributed much needed data on the complexity of deep-sea ecosystems. This in turn has created a community of scientists who continue to work together to better understand the remarkable world of the deep sea and its vast diversity of habitat and life.
Europe's almost 90 000 km of coastline span a vast area of the globe, from the polar waters of the Arctic to the warm seas of the Mediterranean. Underneath the waves are some of the most spectacular ecosystems on Earth, including cold-water coral reefs and hydrothermal vents, supporting a huge diversity of life both beautiful and alien.
As remote as they may seem, these fantastic ecosystems are also vulnerable to the impacts of human activities and climate change. The HERMIONE project, with EUR 8 million in funding, has focused on investigating Europe's marine ecosystems, including submarine canyons, seamounts, cold seeps, open slopes and deep basins. Scientists from a range of disciplines researched natural ocean dynamics, ecosystem distribution and interconnections, considering biodiversity, specific adaptions and biological capacity in the context of a wide range of highly vulnerable deep-sea habitats. The team included biologists, ecologists, microbiologists, biogeochemists, sedimentologists, physical oceanographers, modellers and socio-economists.
One of the key questions they addressed was how natural and anthropogenic changes affect specific European marine ecosystems and, by extension, the goods and services on which we rely.
HERMIONE scientists were able to secure a large amount of ship time, largely funded outside of the project by national funds. There were 93 research cruises, of which 69 were longer than five days. The data collated has already been used by 103 PhD and 71 MSc students. Thus, the project has provided crucial training for these students in a range of scientific and soft skills.
A major aim of HERMIONE was to use the knowledge gained during the project to contribute to EU environmental policies. The design and implementation of effective governance strategies and management plans, say project partners, require a clear understanding of the extent, natural dynamics and interconnectedness of ocean ecosystems and socio-economic factors.
Their results have indeed proved very timely and important to ongoing discussions within the European Commission, for example in the context of the revision of the Common Fisheries Policy, as well as at the United Nations with regard to a variety of key current marine- and climate-related issues.