For nearly two weeks, a team of researchers from the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC), the University of Barcelona (UB), the University of Girona and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia have carried out an oceanographic campaign to monitor the environmental conditions of the seabed in the areas of action of the LIFE ECOREST project, seven fishing grounds closed to fishing and control areas off the coast of Girona and Barcelona.
The information gathered during this expedition will make it possible to analyse the initial state of these areas, a step prior to carrying out the marine restoration actions, and thus see the progress made during the development of the project.
In a preliminary assessment of the results, the scientific team has found that the state of conservation of the seabed is not favourable. Despite the establishment of closed areas, the benthic communities observed still show a low complexity and associated diversity, which would indicate that not enough time has passed for their recovery. Through active restoration measures, the project will contribute to accelerate this process, recover the ecosystem and conserve degraded ecosystem services.
However, among the first findings, the researchers have highlighted the presence of an endangered species, Funiculina quadrangularis, a penatulacean or sea pen that has been found in these first samplings in higher density than expected, according to their experience and the situation in other areas. Historical records indicate that this species was very abundant and used to be accidentally extracted in large quantities in trawl nets, however, currently only isolated colonies are observed.
In the coming months, the researchers will proceed to analyse and process all the images obtained, frame by frame, to obtain precise information on the diversity of species, their abundance and the state of conservation of the seabed.
IMAGES OF THE SEABED
Innovative and non-invasive tools and technologies have been used to obtain the images. On the one hand, two autonomous underwater vehicles operated by personnel from the Marine Technology Unit (UTM) and the University of Girona (UdG) have been used, which fly over the seabed for about 6 hours taking images and recover at the end of each mission.
In addition, engineers from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) have also embarked on the last days of the campaign to place a Lander, a structure that incorporates a camera and different environmental sensors. This is a quantitative, non-invasive sampling system that is positioned on the seabed and works statically and autonomously during different time intervals. In this case, the Lander will remain anchored in an area of soft substrates for 6 months and will be collected during the following campaign. Its mission is to take images of the bottom every 30 minutes to understand the temporal dynamics and interactions between different species. During this period, it will monitor the dynamics and different interactions that occur on a crinoid bottom (Leptometra phalangium), a species with reduced mobility that forms dense aggregations in areas of the continental margin. These aggregations are very relevant as they contribute to many ecosystem services that benefit the fishing industry, as they play an important role in the life cycle of different species of commercial interest such as hake or red mullet.
The project plans to restore more than 29,000 hectares of deep-sea habitats, distributed in 14 fishing protection zones along the coast of Girona and Barcelona, an area of great ecological importance due to the high concentration of endangered, threatened or vulnerable species, including gorgonians, black corals and several species of sponges.
Deep habitats provide shelter and food for a multitude of species and enhance marine biodiversity as they are linked to the life cycle of many marine organisms. They also provide economic and recreational benefits.
Six of the project’s action areas are permanent no-take zones and the remaining areas have a temporary fishing restriction, which has been agreed between fishermen’s associations, the scientific community and the Spanish fisheries administration.
This initiative, which is coordinated by the ICM-CSIC, has as partners several Cofradías de Girona, the Biodiversity Foundation of the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, the University of Barcelona and WWF Spain, as well as the financial contribution of the European Union’s LIFE Programme.