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The new monitoring program for marine areas expands its action range to all protected marine areas in Catalonia

Image:The applied methodology by the UB-IRBio teams will respond to the requirements of the adaptive management of the natural protected areas of Catalonia.

The new scientific monitoring program of the marine sites promoted by the Department of Territory and Sustainability will expand its action range and will include all protected sites of Catalonia. To date, this monitoring was specially focused on the Natural Park of Cap de Creus and the Natural Park of Montgrí, Illes Medes and Baix Ter. With the new agreement signed together with the University of Barcelona (UB), the initiative promotes this program and is expanded to all areas included in the Plan for Spaces of Natural Interest (PEIN) and the Natura 2000 Network, from which there are no detailed scientific data like those from marine parks.

The secretary for Environment and Sustainability, Marta Subirà, noted that this program “will enable to step forward in the knowledge of the conservation state and the main trends that affect the marine species and habitats in our field”. “We are aware that our marine environment has a historic lack of knowledge, but this lack can be corrected thanks to two strategic projects to be launched this 2021. On the one hand, the monitoring of marine biodiversity in the protected marine spaces of Catalonia, now official with the agreement with the UB, and on the other, the map of marine habitats (2021-2023). These projects will enable us to advance in the knowledge of this field in order to apply the necessary public policies to guarantee its conservation”, noted Subirà.

The contract with the UB accounts for 736,527 euros and will be conducted from 2021 to 2024, aiming to improve the state of conservation and protect the biodiversity of the marine environment in the whole territory. The program continues the research activity launched by the University in 1990 and is managed by the Office of Knowledge Transfer of the UB (Bosch i Gimpera Foundation, FBG-UB).

The scientific monitoring will be coordinated by the experts Bernat Hereu (Natural Marine Parks) and Cristina Linares (PEIN and Natura 2000 Network), members of the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of the UB. Other participating teams of the UB and other institutions, included in the Benthic Ecology and Biology Research Group and the Marine Biodiversity Conservation Group (MEDRECOVER), with an experience in research of more than 25 years in basic research projects and applied to protected natural sites in Catalonia and other marine reserves in the Mediterranean area.

Knowing and protecting the marine natural heritage in Catalonia

Protected marine areas are an essential management tool for the preservation of coastal ecosystems. In Catalonia, the Natural Park of Cap de Creus and the Natural Park of Montgrí, Illes Medes and Baix Ter preserve a unique natural heritage which is threatened by natural-origin and anthropogenic impacts on the marine environment. These marine and terrestrial natural parks, considered two of the most emblematic marine reserves in the Mediterranean, are integrated by areas with different protection levels.

The applied methodology by the UB-IRBio teams will respond to the requirements of the adaptive management of the natural protected areas of Catalonia to improve the management of the natural heritage in marine areas. The management model requires a periodic assessment of the conservation state of the natural heritage, as well as to consider the differences between the different spaces –distribution, expansion, type of communities and species, etc. –, and to determine the pressures that act on each ecosystem.

Regarding the scientific work, it is decisive to have temporary data series “to know the state of the marine ecosystems and compare the evolution of communities with the areas where there is no temporary data (such as PEIN and Natura 200 Network spaces) and obtain conclusions based on scientific knowledge”, notes Bernat Hereu, one of the scientists that coordinates the program and lecturer at the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the UB.

New descriptors to identify littoral disturbances

As part of the program, the team will conduct a scientific monitoring of several indicators (red gorgonian, red coral, bryozoans, algae communities, sea urchins, caves, mediolittoral communities, etc.) to assess the ecological state of biological communities and the impact of human activity (scuba diving, artisanal and sports fishing, poaching, climate change, etc.) on the marine ecosystem.

There will be a warning system to enable the setting of a series of new indicators to follow in case there are sudden situations that can alter the environmental parameters which affect marine biodiversity, or unexpected situations –for instance, storms, episodes of pollution or coral poaching and potential re-plantation– to guarantee the good conservation state of the marine biodiversity in these protected spaces. “It is important to contextualize the different disturbances of the marine environment at a larger time and space scale and to add the effects of climate change to the management of protected marine spaces.

The fact that the different disturbances act on a local, regional or global scale and interact with each other determines the actions or management measures that must be adopted to eliminate or reduce them", notes ICREA academy professor and researcher Cristina Linares.

The scientific team collaborates with international organisms such as the Network of Marine Protected Areas of the Mediterranean (MEDPAN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN) and the Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA). This will enable to include the marine natural parks and the Natura 2000 Network of Catalonia as study cases with the support of these organisms, which stand out for the management and conservation of marine ecosystems internationally.

A marine monitoring as the key for the application of the adaptive management model

This program is designed to respond to the regulation system based on the adaptive management and which makes it necessary to conduct a more detailed monitoring of the indicators of the conservation state of the marine ecosystem and the places where different anthropic activities take place.

The adaptive management requires to review the established regulations and the data obtained from the annual monitoring of marine communities, which is later used for decision-making and as a guarantee of objectiveness and solvency.

The monitoring is an essential key for the application of the adaptive management model already applied in these Protected Marine Areas. In particular, the Pla rector d’ús i gestió (PRUG) of the marine Natural Partial Reserve (RNP) of the Medes Islands regulates, among other aspects, the diving limits establishing a maximum number of divings per year per every sector or area of diving within RNP that must be periodically looked at, using the monitoring of the evolution and conservation state of the marine biological communities. This same vision is used to work on the PRUG in the marine field of the Natural Park of Cap de Creus, now under its draft phase.

Biodiversity Monitoring Global Program

The Directiva Habitats establishes that member states have to be responsible for the monitoring of the conservation state of species and habitats and states the obligation of writing a report every six years which lists the repercussions of the taken conservation measures. In the Catalan marine field, it counts on five habitats of community interest and about twenty species of community interest belonging to different fauna and flora groups, on which there is little information, if any. This situation should be reversed, among other things, with the information obtained from this contract, in the upcoming years, in a recurrent and periodic manner.

Apart from the habitats and species of community interest, the Department of Territory and Sustainability is launching the Biodiversity Monitoring Global Program of Catalonia (SISEBIO). This project is structured as a biodiversity monitoring tool over time in order to provide Catalonia with the necessary tools for the knowledge of trends in biological diversity and its response to global change.

Within the many levels in which biodiversity is structured (genes, species, communities, habitats, landscape, etc.), the presented monitoring in the SISEBIO framework focuses on two elements. On the one hand, in the measure of changes in properties of habitats regarding the distribution and properties of the structure and functions at a local scale. On the other, the monitoring is completed with the properties of the changes of organism communities of the habitats, according to their trophic function. The monitoring of thee elements is carried out across Catalonia. Both in land and continental waters, the project started its field work in 2018. In the marine field, this contract has to bring all the necessary information in the upcoming years.