Turkish and EU researchers join forces for Mediterranean conservation efforts
Turkey's Mediterranean Conservation Society and the EU-funded MERCES project are researching innovative solutions for restoring the Mediterranean's degraded habitats.
© vova, #191972427, 2018. source: stock.adobe.com
Around the world, our marine ecosystems are under siege. Due to global warming, overfishing, pollution, species invasion and habitat loss, the ecosystems of our seas and oceans are feeling the pressure and the Mediterranean is no exception. But to understand the exact impact these actions are having on the Mediterraneans ecosystem and its resources, more information is needed.
This is where the EU-funded MERCES project comes in. Researchers from the projects 28 partners are working to increase our understanding of the changing interaction between humans, the environment and marine species.
One of these partners is the Mediterranean Conservation Society (MCS), a leading player in Turkeys marine conservation efforts. As our name suggests, the MCSs objective is to promote the conservation of Mediterranean ecosystems, says the MSCs Elizabeth Grace Tunka Bengil. Conservation and restoration activities like what MERCES is doing fit right into our scope, so we were very excited to join the consortium and be a part of its research activities.
On the front line
Being located directly on the Mediterranean, MCS is well-positioned to carry out a number of the projects field experiments. The project placed two key stations in Turkey because the Mediterranean coast here sits at the front line of non-indigenous species invasion, explains Bengil.
To help prevent the havoc that non-indigenous species cause in the Mediterraneans fragile ecosystem, the MCS is testing the effectiveness of cages. Some 170 marine plots have been designated, half of which are covered by cages and half of which remain open. The objective is to see whether or not the use of cages is effective in protecting native species from invasive, non-native species. Although it is too early to know the outcome of the experiment, Bengil notes that the use of cages as a long-term solution will be challenging. It is hard to maintain the cages due to such natural conditions as marine snowing, and they also need to be cleaned and repaired monthly, she says.
Developing innovative solutions
The MCS has also contributed to the publication of several papers, one of which was recently featured in Scientific Reports. Based in part on the research being conducted at the MCS sites, this paper outlines the decreasing diversity of the Mediterraneans ecosystem.
The Mediterranean is a highly diverse marine ecosystem that plays host to nearly 10 % of the worlds marine biodiversity, explains Bengil. However, as a result of species invasion and other factors, our research shows that this ecosystem has been degraded over time. Specifically, MERCES researchers have observed a reduction in the abundance of fish species that play an important role in the ecosystems food chain. This has resulted in a total decrease of 34 % of both commercial and non-commercial fish species and a 41 % decrease of top predators.
Using the research conducted across the project, MERCES researchers will next turn to developing innovative solutions for restoring the Mediterraneans degraded habitats. Not only will this potentially include the use of cages and other technologies, but also the implementation of new policies and regulations all of which are aimed at restoring and enhancing this fragile yet essential marine ecosystem.
Our research serves as a baseline reference, which will play a crucial role in our ongoing research on the effects that environmental and human activity have on the Mediterranean, adds Bengil. Since the intensity of these stressors is increasing throughout most of the Mediterranean basin, in-the-field research such as what the MCS is providing is essential to implementing effective marine policies and management actions..