Where better to enjoy a relaxing coastal trip than the Mediterranean? However, with large areas of this and the Black Sea basin under threat from environmental change, collaboration within the local scientific communities is more important than ever.
Encouraging the development of analytical tools and data sharing is the aim of the EU-funded project PEGASO (People for Ecosystem-based Governance in Assessing Sustainable Development of Ocean and Coast).
"We want to link scientific results with decision making in these communities," explains project co-ordinator Françoise Breton, who works at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona.
The four year project, which has benefitted from €7 million EU funding, is integrating the work of 25 different institutions to create a database where researchers can pool their results. The Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) governance platform acts as a bridge between scientific communities and end users, allowing them to monitor changes and adapt conservation strategies, supporting the ICZM protocol for the Mediterranean. This protocol was used for the first time in the Mediterranean, and the model is no forming the basis for solving similar problems in the Black Sea.
Furthermore, PEGASO is developing and refining tools to assess the sustainability of the coastal zones, which can be adapted to suit each partner organisation. Ten pilot zones have been identified, three in the Black Sea basin and seven in the Mediterranean, where the group is working with local experts to validate these tools.
Breton hopes this will allow the group to identify regions in danger of degradation, allowing targeted ecosystem conservation or rehabilitation efforts. "By analysing the health of the ecosystem we can help the decision makers tackle or even prevent the impact of, for example, climate change."
Currently halfway through the project, the team have received the support of all the countries in the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins, and are reviewing their specific needs.
"Our priorities are now to deepen the dataset by providing the best support for sharing results between the groups," says Breton. "This way we can produce accurate accounts of the coastal and marine ecosystems."
Among the tools under development are sets of indicators that will allow researchers to produce accurate maps of the coastal regions, the seabed and marine habitats. It is hoped that such maps will allow scientists to monitor changes in the ecosystem, and identify risk 'hot spots'.
"Ten days of algal bloom reduces oxygen so much that marine species can die," Breton explains. "If we can predict future events we can mitigate such problems."
A central aim of PEGASO is that its work will continue to benefit researchers long after its completion in 2014. By setting up new methods of communication and data sharing, Breton stresses that there will be long-lasting effects. Additionally, the training programmes offered aim to improve the current researchers' skills, as well as allowing them to teach others.
Full integration of data across the regions will identify vulnerable sites and major environmental threats, allowing prioritisation of responses. The creation of sustainable planning guidelines will not only benefit scientific communities, but also local residents, the aquaculture and fishing industries, and will ensure that tourism is encouraged in an environmentally friendly way.
"The Mediterranean and Black Sea basins represent a vital resource upon which many millions depend, both economically and culturally. However, they face increasing pressures and environmental degradation," adds Francesca Somma from the European Commission Joint Research Centre, a partner of the project. 'The full implementation of the ICZM protocol would be a great step forward."