At the Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC), Josep-Maria Gili has been researching the ocean for over 40 years and transferring its values to society in order to protect it. He currently coordinates the LIFE ECOREST project to restore deep-sea habitats in Catalonia with the active participation of the fishing industry.
Why is LIFE ECOREST so important?
We are facing a situation of environmental and climatic emergency. The oceans have been impacted by mankind for many years. There is a real need for innovative proposals to help change attitudes towards the ocean.
LIFE ECOREST not only integrates scientific knowledge with previously tested proposals that can help these ecosystems to recover, but its importance also lies in the effort made with the actors involved and the fishing sector.
This proposal for joint work between fishermen, scientists, administrations and society in general is the great commitment that the ocean needs to recover.
We are facing a great challenge. We have initiated what we believe to be the most important marine restoration project in the Mediterranean. We are faced with a proposal that can be exemplary and that can be replicated. This is the great goal.
What are the values of marine restoration?
The ocean is in a very precarious state in many respects. Habitats have lost their function. Species need them to be able to close their life cycles and to recover the services they used to provide to humanity as well as their resilience in the face of climate change. Marine conservation is essential to restore the ocean to its natural state.
The sea has a capacity to recover naturally, but we are in a time of emergency. The best way for that recovery to be faster than natural is to apply restoration techniques. It’s the same thing that happens when we want to restore forests. Forests recover by themselves, but if we use reforestation techniques, the forest will recover its function sooner. And what is now essential for the ocean is to protect, conserve and, above all, restore.
What role does marine restoration play in LIFE ECOREST?
It is an innovative project based on a previous experience of restoration in the seabed of the Costa Brava and the result has been spectacular. The great challenge now lies in how we can begin to restore more than 30,000 hectares of underwater in five years together with the fishing sector. It is not an easy goal. It is ambitious. But we are facing a great challenge, both to restore and recover these funds and their function, and to change the attitudes of the fishing sector and, I would even dare say, the scientific sector.
How is the fishing sector going to be involved?
They are the primary actors in the collection of the organisms that we are going to transplant in a series of areas that the fishermen themselves have proposed and are declared as protected. In these areas we will use active restoration techniques to accelerate the recovery process.
The sector is involved not only in the collection of the organisms that we are going to transplant, but also in their maintenance in aquariums in the same fishermen’s associations and their adaptation to be returned to the sea.
The same sector will be in charge of disseminating the values of recovering marine areas to society. And, above all, an aspect that is very important to me, is that the sector will show itself to society in a different way, as the one that cares and protects.
Is society aware of the richness of the seabed in Catalonia and the rest of Spain?
We have been working on the seabed for many years, but the sea is still largely unknown. Documentaries are only an approximation, but everything that science generates needs to reach society quickly so that people can see that we are facing an extraordinary heritage of biodiversity in the seas of Spain, which has been damaged by different human activities, not only fishing, but also chemical and plastic pollution, among others.
This great heritage has been misused. Not only is it something we have to care for and value, but it is the only way to mitigate the effects of climate change. Without a conserved, structured and highly diverse ocean we will hardly be able to resist the effects of climate change.
What other challenges does the project face?
A big challenge is to involve society as a whole. If the public wants to contribute to marine restoration, they will be able to do so by visiting the fishermen’s associations and participating in the maintenance of corals, gorgonians and sponges. They will also learn more about the sector’s commitment and change of attitude.
But one of the most important challenges of the project is the transversality between scientific knowledge, the predisposition of the sector to act so that the ocean continues to produce, as well as citizen participation.
We must not forget that as a pioneering project in the Mediterranean, one of the greatest challenges is to demonstrate that its methodology, execution and participation are an example to be followed in other areas of Spain and the Mediterranean.