PROJECT  OVERVIEW

AFRIMED: Algal Forest Restoration in MEDiterranean sea

 

Start: January 16, 2019 

Duration (in months): 36

Consortium: 11 partners

Project budget (in €): 1.486.683

 

General description

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 (Worm et al. 2006, Airoldi et al. 2008). 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.

Recently, the EU funded the MERCES (http://www.merces-project.eu/) project which seeks to revise current concepts and understanding relating to the restoration, recovery and human-mediated modification of coastal and marine 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, 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.). Here, capitalising on the experience gained and the knowledge accumulated in these and other projects, we have formulated a consortium that will improve existing, and develop new restoration techniques to efficiently restore degraded macroalgal forests (See Annex A for the AFRIMED interactions with MERCES and Life ROC-POP projects).

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 Cystoseira macroalgal forests” at Med scale. This information, combined with maps of cumulative impacts for the Mediterranean Sea (Micheli et al. 2014, Abdul Malak et al. 2015, information gathered during the AFRIMED project) will be used to identify priority areas in need of restoration (WP1). The information will prove vital in targeting future restoration efforts and will be stored in a spatial database which will facilitate data sharing over the course of the project and beyond.

Building on the results from MERCES and ROC-POP Life, experiments in mesocosms will be carried out on a selection of Cystoseira species 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. (WP2). Specifically, the experiments will be used to determine the relative vulnerability and tolerances of specific life history traits and life cycle stages to drivers of change that are common across the Mediterranean basin. Furthermore, as climatic changes are expected to impact Cystoseira spp. we will develop a series of innovative experiments in order to explore and account for projected thermal changes in the region. Accounting for contextual and climatic changes is an essential, but often neglected step in choosing where to conduct restoration actions, what species to restore and deciding which approaches are most suitable. At present, this information is severely lacking and generic approaches are commonly used in all situations and contexts which 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 follow.

– Building on the findings of WP2, the implementation of restoration actions in pilot areas (WP3) 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 of Porto Cesareo (http://www.parks.it/riserva.marina.porto.cesareo/Epar.php), 2- Portonovo (Adriatic Sea, Central Mediterranean Sea), 3- the Site of National Interest of Bagnoli-CoroglioThe  MPA, in the Adriatic-Ionian region, was selected since evidences of regressions of Cystoseira were documented so that they were already selected as experimental sites in MERCES.  Portonovo is located in the Adriatic Sea and this allows to maintain the regional distribution of the pilot studies identified in the project. Moreover, Portonovo is an interesting area of high ecological value and is of great interest for the local authorities and stakeholders. The SNI of Bagnoli-Coroglio, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, underwent dramatic collapse in several Cystoseira species which were not detected in the recent period anymore. Currently, the Bagnoli-Coroglio area is undergoing urban and environmental regeneration actions (ABBaCo project) also involving the removal of chronic sources of disturbance, including heavily contaminated marine sediments. Pilot restoration examples will help regenerate ecosystems, develop knowledge, stimulate the delivery of ecosystem services and strengthen current conservation activities in the region, such as ABBaCo, which is also restoring seagrass meadows and coralligenous formations in the region (WP3).

The pilot joint actions will be carried out in Albania, Morocco and Tunisia in areas that will be identified during WP1 activities.

Ecosystem services of macroalgal forests: 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 (WP4);

 

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 (see the Declarations of support included in 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 and coastal restoration; the creation of a “business club” involving stakeholders and local communities for sharing opportunities and building consensus for the AFRIMED restoration project. This follows the success of a similar initiative within MERCES (WP5);

 

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 our strategy to effectively restore Cystoseira and to promote effective and sustainable restoration activities across Mediterranean countries. This will involve the development and dissemination of targeted and audience-appropriate materials and the communication of on-going activities and results through social media and other relevant avenues (WP6).

Figure 1. Pert diagram illustrating the structure of AFRIMED proposal and the interaction among WPs.
Figure 2. AFRIMED work package

Specific objectives:

  • Map the distribution and status of macroalgal forests in the Mediterranean to help prioritise areas for restoration
  • 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 ecosystem services;
  • Conduct extensive laboratory and field-based experiments in order to implement restoration techniques also on the light of global change;
  • Develop indicators, targets and monitoring frameworks to assess the degree of success and the benefits in ecosystem services;
  • Conduct pilot restoration in two MPAs (Torre Guaceto & Porto Cesareo, Adriatic-Ionian region) and in contaminated Sites of National Interest (Bagnoli-Coroglio).
  • Promote the transferability of know-how in the Mediterranean EU and third countries (Albania, Tunisia, Morocco);
  • Develop a detailed roadmap for a follow-up project(s) in order to implement and extend the pilot activities over larger areas;
  • Engage relevant stakeholders and create a network in order to raise awareness and promote the socio-economic benefits of conserving, restoring and sustainably using our ocean

Key project outputs:

 

A spatial geoportal common tool for the transferability of all the information;

A map of future restoration sites;

Pilot examples of restoration and joint pilot actions to promote restoration actions;

A clear roadmap to enable the up-scaling of the project;

A simple, user friendly decision tool to identify the candidate areas;

A series of policy briefings outlining the relevance of restoration and the Blue Growth;

A partnership of multidisciplinary scientists across the Mediterranean region;

A network of public authorities, NGOs, businesses, research bodies, local communities;

Promotional material from relevant stakeholders and the local community;

Scientific papers stemming from advancements made in the field of restoration.

 

Expected results of the AFRIMED project:

 

Development of successful and replicable restoration techniques to fit the local context in different coastal areas along the Mediterranean basin;

Restored Cystoseira forests in marine coastal areas at various spatial scales;

Strengthen international ocean research in marine ecosystems restoration;

Strengthen ocean data through the aggregation of historical and contemporary data;

Enhanced awareness within the blue economy sectors of the benefits of restoration;

Improved ocean governance through the development of a protocol which enables a key ecosystem to become more healthy, productive and resilient;

Improved ocean governance via cooperation between different member states