AFRIMED will develop and promote robust protocols to restore damaged or degraded macroalgal forests (Cystoseira) and provide a framework for scaling up the approach in other regions.
As the deployment of blue economy sectors across Europe accelerates, it is vital that the resilience of marine and coastal ecosystems is maintained and restored in order to allow economic growth to be achieved in a sustainable manner. However, despite best efforts to conserve and sustainably manage marine ecosystems, attempts to mitigate human threats are generally proving inadequate to halt biodiversity loss and habitat degradation. Consequently, there is a need for the European Union to turn policy objectives relating to secure, safe, clean and sustainably managed oceans into actions and impacts. This is particularly true in coastal habitats, where the effects of multiple stressors are causing widespread loss of critical coastal habitats, a pattern which is projected to increase with climatic change. Macroalgal forests, one of the most productive and valuable, yet undervalued, habitats in the Mediterranean Sea, are being rapidly lost. Due to their role in supporting biodiversity and food webs, their loss is leading to a decrease in critical ecosystem services, such as fisheries, and a reduction in the capacity of oceans to sequestrate carbon dioxide and help mitigate climate change. Consequently, prompt and novel actions are urgently required to stimulate their recovery. Active restoration (e.g. the planting of seeds or seedlings) is one of the most profitable strategies to return ecosystems to their original state in a reasonable time frame. Appreciating the potential of restoration as a method to bring about much needed change, the EU recently funded the “MERCES” project (http://www.merces-project.eu/), which seeks to revise current concepts and understanding of restoration in the marine environment. Here, capitalising on the experience and extensive network developed in MERCES we seek to improve existing, and develop new innovative restoration actions in order to restore damaged or degraded macroalgal forests (Cystoseira) to the benefit the people and industries that utilise them, and provide a framework from which to up-scale the approach.
Specifically, the project will i.a.:
- map the distribution and status of macroalgal forests in the Mediterranean to help prioritise areas for restoration and support EU policies and initiatives such as the Marine Strategic Framework Directive and Maritime spatial planning Directive;
- identify and map the drivers that compromise the health and restoration potential of macroalgal forests and reduce their ability to provide ecosystem services;
- conduct extensive laboratory and field-based experiments in order to develop, refine and implement restoration techniques that have an increased probability of success, both today and under future climatic conditions;
- develop indicators, targets and monitoring frameworks to evaluate changes following restoration (e.g. degree of success) and the resultant benefits (e.g. ecosystem service delivery);
- undertake pilot examples of restoration in two MPAs (Adriatic-Ionian region) where previous restoration actions have been carried out and where there is a high potential to provide a wide range of marine ecosystem services; a pilot example of restoration in the Site of National Interest of Bagnoli-Coroglio (Tyrrhenian Sea), which is degraded and needs support to recover;
- engage with relevant stakeholders (i.e., NGOs, academia, industry) to improve and develop methodologies in order to deliver relevant and useful outputs;
- outline methods and contextual factors that improve the efficiency and success rate of restoration and the delivery of goods and services;
- promote the replicability and transferability of know-how across partners based in the EU and in third countries in the Mediterranean Sea (Albania, Tunisia, Morocco) in order to replicate the efforts in other Mediterranean countries through coordinated pilot joint actions;
- develop a detailed roadmap for a follow-up project(s) in order to implement and extend the pilot activities over larger areas;
- engage with, and disseminate audience specific information, to relevant stakeholders in order to raise awareness and promote the benefits of conserving, restoring and sustainably using of our ocean; and
- network with relevant stakeholders and donors to highlight the socio-economic benefits of marine restoration (e.g. climate change mitigation, enhanced fisheries, ecosystem based-adaptation) in order to prepare the ground for future investments in marine and coastal restoration.