The Marine Ecosystems & Resources (MER) thematic line, coordinated by Graham Pierce, develop research, training, dissemination and outreach focused on blue growth - the exploration, investigation and sustainable exploitation of marine resources (biological, energy and mineral), understanding how ecosystem structure and functioning support ecosystem services and how they are affected by anthropogenic pressures, including climate change. It will support initiatives to develop research needed to underpin integrated ecosystem assessment, implement marine spatial panning and integrated marine management, and contribute to technology development.
Portugal has one of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones in Europe and with its proposal for Continental Shelf extension beyond 200 nautical miles submitted to United Nations, may extend the national maritime area to 40 times larger than its continental area, offering access to the next great frontier: deep seabed exploration. In this context, MER will embrace the new opportunities, challenges and responsibilities arising, and work to support the efficient and innovative use of the ocean and coast.
1) Blue growth: MER research addresses sustainability challenges in fisheries, aquaculture, bioprospection, and mineral and energy resources. Marine protein supply from aquaculture is a key contributor to food security. There is a need to shift aquaculture production from freshwater to marine species, due to global freshwater scarcity, to develop sustainable alternatives to fish meal and fish oil for feed, and to perfect multi-trophic (poly)culture to reduce environmental impacts and increase production of low trophic level organisms. MER targets these topics concentrating on brackish water bio-resources. Fishery management needs to adapt to the broader policy context of integrated and ecosystem-based marine management. MER research aims to improve fishery management and governance to achieve ecological and socioeconomic sustainability, through close integration of physical, ecological and socioeconomic studies on dynamics of fished stocks and innovative, participatory approaches to fishery management and governance. The world’s oceans and their diverse biota represent perhaps the greatest resource on Earth for the discovery of new bioactive compounds. MER undertakes screening of bioactive compounds in marine invertebrates (e.g. corals) with high biotechnological potential. As concerns deep-sea mineral and energy resources, MER focuses on untapped potential of non-biotic deep-sea resources, contributing to developing sustainable exploitation of cobalt-rich crusts, massive sulphides, phosphorites, sand, gravel, oil, gas and gas hydrates.
2) Ecosystem-based marine governance: Blue growth also depends on integrated and successfully implemented marine management. Linked to research under the IES line, MER undertakes research on management strategy evaluation for conservation and sustainable resource use, and management measures and governance systems, including marine protected areas (MPAs) and participatory governance approach. Networks of MPAs are a key tool in the emerging paradigm of Ecosystem-Based marine spatial planning, complemented by rational management of the remaining non-protected coast and seas. MER addresses the ecological coherence and management of the Portuguese MPA network and connect to transnational efforts in the Atlantic.
3) Marine ecosystem services: Blue growth depends on a sound understanding of coastal and ocean ecosystem structure and processes (from geological, oceanographic and chemical processes, to biodiversity and trophic flows), how these provide services to society, and how ecosystem processes and services respond to anthropogenic stressors, including climate change. Linking with research under the EBH and EFB lines, MER research addresses fundamental relationships between processes and services, and the interfaces between social and natural systems. The coast is subject to a diversity of natural and anthropogenic hazards. MER conducts research on geodynamic hazards, morpho/hydrodynamic costal evolution and impacts, flood hazards, seashore retreat and environmental impacts related to port activities, offshore resources exploitation and engineering works. Global change impacts on ocean circulation/thermohaline properties. MER ocean circulation models (shelf, slope and open ocean scales) are crucial to understand these changes.
4) Technology for coastal and ocean observation: Technology development is also a key area of development in MER. It includes the development of ROVs, sensors, underwater navigation algorithms and coastal observatories to detect natural variability and trends.
Research groups involved in the thematic line:
- Marine & Estuarine Ecology
- Oceanography & Marine Geology
- Functional Biodiversity
- Coastal zone planning & management
- Environmental processes & pollutants
MER thematic line undertakes multidisciplinary research, monitoring, advice, training, dissemination and outreach to underpin integrated assessment, management and governance of coast and ocean systems, deliver food security, preserve biodiversity, and maintain ecosystem services. It supports implementation of the European Water, Habitats and Marine Strategy Framework Directives and the revised Common Fisheries Policy in Portugal, promoting sustainable regional development. Consistent with the EU H2020 programme it addresses societal challenges in food security, marine and maritime research, climate action, resource efficiency, promotes scientific excellence and supports European industrial leadership. Its objectives are:
1) Blue growth: realising the potential of aquatic living and abiotic resources through ecologically and socioeconomically sustainable exploitation.
- Undertaking integrated assessment of coast and ocean ecosystems and their biotic and abiotic resources: status, trends, resilience, resource potential (e.g. in fisheries and aquaculture; developing data, model, indicator; and expert opinion-based ecosystem assessments).
- Proposing solutions for sustainable exploitation which balance environmental, social and economic dimensions (e.g. accounting for the social value of small-scale fisheries and the ecological vulnerability of deep-sea fisheries).
- Promoting food security based on healthy and safe seafood and informed consumer choice.
- Prospecting for bioactive compounds, mineral and energy resources, including those of active extreme environments (hydrothermal and cold seeps).
2) Ecosystem-based marine governance: providing science-based evidence and advice for integrated watershed, coastal zone and ocean management.
- Developing readily communicable, robust, attainable indicators, reference points, monitoring strategies and management measures;
- Developing innovative adaptation and risk prevention and management measures in response to anthropogenic impacts including climate change;
- Evaluating strategies for integrated marine management and marine spatial planning, to achieve conservation, environmental protection and sustainability objectives, taking into account interactions and conflicts between different sectors of resource use.
- Researching alternative governance systems (e.g. participatory governance) to successfully implement management measures.
3) Marine ecosystem services: Increasing our understanding of ecosystem structure and function, including abiotic (geology, oceanography, biogeochemistry) and biotic (biodiversity, trophic webs, energy flows) components in transition, coastal and deep-sea ecosystems, their contribution to ecosystem services and their responses to external stressors.
- Measuring, modelling and mapping ecosystem processes and components; assessing impacts, vulnerabilities and resilience to external stressors (organic and inorganic pollutants, marine litter, fishing, climate change) on marine life and habitats.
- Characterising and valuing ecosystem services; projections for climate and other stressor impacts on marine ecosystem services.
- Understanding interactions between natural and social systems; understanding on how communities perceive and respond to climate change.
4) Technology for coastal and ocean observation: Development of environmental observation and information systems.
- Innovative coast and ocean observations systems for acquisition of chemical, geological, oceanographic, biological and ecological data.
- Multisensor data acquisition, high resolution ocean imagery, tags and telemetry, AUV and ROV systems.
5) Training, dissemination and outreach: Improving societal awareness and skills; providing knowledge and tools for effective decision making and public engagement in the protection and sustainable use of marine resources; promoting synergies between academia and industry; developing advanced training.