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LIFE ECOREST project: restoring nearly 30,000 hectares of marine habitats on the coasts of Catalonia

Barcelona, 15 November 2021. The main objective of the LIFE ECOREST project is to restore nearly 30,000 hectares of deep-sea habitats along the coasts of Catalonia in an action area of great ecological value located along the coastline of Girona and Barcelona. The initiative, which will be active until 2026, will promote a series of actions in close collaboration with the scientific community, administrations and the fishing sector.
Coordinated by the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC), the LIFE ECOREST programme has as partners the Fundació Biodiversitat del Ministerio para la Transición Ecológica y el Reto Demográfico,  Universitat de Barcelona, the Federació de Confraries de Pescadors de Girona and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and has the financial support of the European Union's LIFE Programme.
Experts Cristina Linares, Andrea Gori, Marta Pérez and Laura Baldo, from the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the Faculty of Biology and the Institute for Research on Biodiversity (IRBio) of the University of Barcelona, are taking part in this project to protect marine ecosystems. The UB researchers will contribute their experience in the development of marine restoration protocols acquired during the BBVA Foundation's ShelfRecover and MERCES projects of the Horizon 2020 programme, led respectively by professors Andrea Gori and Cristina Linares at the University of Barcelona.
Marine habitats of great ecological importance in the Mediterranean
It is estimated that more than 90% of the seabed between 50 and 800 metres deep in the project area shows signs of degradation, which hinders the regeneration of natural resources. This area is considered a point of great ecological importance due to the high concentration of endangered, threatened or vulnerable species, including corals and gorgonians.
For this reason, the LIFE ECOREST project will promote until 2026 a programme of actions to improve the conservation status of benthic habitats and thus demonstrate the effectiveness of participatory management of the fisheries sector. In particular, active restoration strategies that have been successfully implemented in previous projects will be carried out.
The marine area of more than 29,000 hectares to be restored is distributed in fourteen fishing protection zones along the coastline of Gerona and Barcelona. Specifically, six of the project's action areas are permanent no-take zones and the rest have a temporary fishing restriction that has been agreed between the fishermen's associations, the scientific community and the administration.
 "The environmental emergency that the planet and, above all, the ocean are experiencing requires urgent action for the recovery of habitats and biodiversity. This project aims to contribute through innovative active restoration techniques to the recovery of the seabed, with the active collaboration of fishermen and other members of society," explains Josep María Gili, ICM researcher and head of the project, who adds that "this is a great challenge that aims to become an example for other areas of the Mediterranean.
"For the first time, the collaboration between fishermen, scientists, conservation organisations and the administration will allow us to work to regenerate the structural complexity and functionality of benthic ecosystems on large protected areas of the shelf and continental slope, while promoting the regeneration of associated fishery resources," add Andrea Gori and Cristina Linares, from the University of Barcelona.
LIFE ECOREST: Participation and governance
Among other actions, the project will help to enhance participatory management of the fisheries sector, as well as facilitating spaces for dialogue, strengthening governance mechanisms and raising public awareness of the importance of conserving deep sea habitats. It is also planned to replicate the restoration and governance schemes in other fisheries areas and to transfer the results and active conservation measures to other Mediterranean areas in similar situations.
LIFE ECOREST is aligned with the objectives of the Spanish Strategy for Green Infrastructure, Connectivity and Ecological Restoration, a fundamental planning tool to identify, conserve and restore affected ecosystems throughout Spain and connect them with each other.