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Improving National Capacities in Observation and Management of Marine Environment in Tunisia

Final Report Summary - INCOMMET (Improving National Capacities in Observation and Management of Marine Environment in Tunisia)

Executive Summary:
The INCOMMET project was designed to reinforce cooperation with Europe’s neighbours in the context of ERA FP7-INCO-2011-6, ERA-WIDE. The project targeted , the National Institute of Marine Sciences and Technologies - INSTM, the public research institution in Tunisia in charge of aquatic and marine environment research.

INCOMMET project intended to provide INSTM with necessary support and resources to improve its capacities in marine sciences, to have access to emergent technologies, to increase its networking with outstanding EU research teams, to improve its visibility at regional, national and international level and finally to promote its participation to EU funded Programmes. The final aim of INCOMMET is to contribute to reinforce the capacities of INSTM to become a national and regional research centre of excellence in Tunisia and in the Mediterranean region and to participate in EU Research programmes.

An updated inventory of scientific results related to the Tunisian marine environment and particularly in the Gulf of Gabès was produced. A thorough assessment of INSTM strengths and needs was conducted by two external experts and came out with recommendations on scientific and internal organization of INSTM.

To enhance EU-INSTM cooperations and visibility and increase INSTM’s participation in EU FP or related EU programmes, training sessions were performed on several scientific topics totalizing about three hundred attendees. Fifteen short term visits were also ran during the project and mainly targeted Tunisian scientists working in EU laboratories from partners institutions. Two technical workshops at sea were organized and involved emerging instrumentations deployed for the first time in Tunisian waters.

INCOMMET elaborate a strategy to improve the internal and scientific structuring of INSTM and conducted regional and national lobbying to increase the visibility of INSTM. As a result, greater awareness of the INSTM’s abilities has already translated into two new projects with EU partners.

To improve INSTM visibility and its role in the region and to strengthen the awareness on S&T collaboration opportunities between INSTM and Europe, a communication plan was set in place including a public website, production of a leaflet, production of a scientific film on the implementation of continuous analysis operation of marine particles and organization of International Conference attended by about hundred participants from six countries and representing about twenty research institutions, academics, SMEs and NGOs.

Project Context and Objectives:

INCOMMET was designed for INSTM, which has acquired in the past two decades large expertise and national and regional recognition in the fields of physical oceanography, biogeochemistry, marine biology research, to foster its development, improve excellence in the related relevant research areas, better contribute to the use and management of limited natural resources and support sustainable development in Tunisia and in the Mediterranean region.

Scientific context of INCOMMET

The functioning of the oceanic ecosystem is a matter of extreme complexity where interactions seem unlimited, and time and space scales are very important. Observations of all kinds are the prerequisite to the looked for understanding and to deciphering the dynamics of the ecosystem. Tunisia, and given its geographic position in the Mediterranean Sea, both its occidental and oriental basins and its implication in multidisciplinary oceanographic research is highly demanding in terms of work force, competences and equipments. Cooperation is unavoidable to achieve efficiency. It is the main goal of INCOMMET to facilitate the interaction of INSTM with the EU scientific community in marine sciences and its participation to EU funded programmes.

National and regional context

INSTM is based in a Mediterranean Country, Tunisia, that benefits from an exceptional geographical situation for experimental projects in the Mediterranean Sea, with natural access to both the occidental and the oriental basins. Tunisia has a very long coastal line (1300 km) belonging partially to the western Mediterranean Basin but mainly to the eastern Mediterranean Basin. The presence of 575 km sand beaches has generated a very important bathing and sailing tourism activity, tourism being among the main resources of the country. Fishing activity is also an important activity, making the second exported agricultural product after olive oil. About 90% of exports are directed to European Union markets. Aquaculture has been developed not only on some coastal zones but also in fresh water areas generated by dams. Like in Europe and many other countries over the world, most of the Tunisian population is concentrated along the coast where are the largest cities, Tunis, Sousse, Sfax, Gabès. This means that the industrial activity is also concentrated near the sea in connection with a thriving harbour activity like phosphate export through Sfax, Tunisia being the 5th phosphate producer worldwide.

The Tunisian marine environment is therefore submitted to tremendous pressures, being the target of different conflicting interests.

Tunisia pays a particular attention to preserving its natural and biological resources. A coherent, preventive and wise policy was elaborated to combine socio-economic development and rational use of these resources through measures supporting efficient actions. Tunisia is committed to environmental protection and sustainable development. Over the last five years a significant percentage of public expenditure has been earmarked for environmental protection and the management of natural resources; this is estimated at more than 1% of GDP. The coastal and marine pollution have been also among the top priorities identified by the Tunisian government in its environmental policy for the period 2007-2013.
Regarding biological diversity and its interactions in natural areas and environments under high anthropogenic pressure, the whole studies conducted over the past years have reached a satisfactory level of knowledge, providing a sound basis to reach the objective of sustainable development.

INCOMMET roots in a political common effort from the Tunisian and European Union to protect the marine environment and the Mediterranean basin.

If on one side knowledge of environmental related socio-economic and physical processes is somewhat improved, on the other side there is still a need, in Tunisia like in many other Mediterranean Partner Countries, to support capacity building and research excellence in national research centres such as INSTM, to ensure local capacity able to undertake high level research goals and to contribute solving local problems and increase participation in EU funded research programmes, particularly in those actions targeting the Mediterranean region.
On that regards, the European Union has developed its support by implementing new types of programmes and developing a European Neighbourhood Policy:
- FP7: Cooperation with third countries is strongly encouraged by the European Commission in line with the European Union’s environmental, social and economic policies (cf. Europe 2020) that promotes a sustainable and modern economy based on cutting-edge technology that preserves the environment and makes the corner stone for future development and expansion.
- The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) launched in 2004, aimed at avoiding the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its neighbours and instead strengthening the prosperity, stability and security of all. The new European neighbourhood policy (ENP) was substantiated in particular by an Action Plan (2005) giving a new dimension to every aspect of the Association Agreement between Tunisia and the EU.

INSTM is a well-established and renowned research Centre in Tunisia that is also recognised by the international scientific community dealing with the Mediterranean Sea. The contribution of INSTM to the efforts of EU on the Mediterranean Sea is to be considered essential and INCOMMET is designed to make value of the INSTM potential in that prospect. Indeed, INSTM is already contributing to collection of marine data that is of vital importance for marine research and a key issue for various studies, from the climate change prediction to biodiversity studies.
By addressing scientific research issues at the Mediterranean level, INSTM will contribute to balance data acquisition and spatial coverage between north and south areas of the Mediterranean basin. INSTM has already produced highly valuable data and its involvement in EU FP programmes dedicated to the Mediterranean Sea will be of mutual benefit. In addition the sustained development of the Tunisian marine environment and the management of its natural resources will benefit to the whole Mediterranean Sea. Considering the socio-economic differences between the north and south borders of the Mediterranean Sea, we may expect new and more efficient ways to achieve this sustainable development along the south border.

Given the expertise and multifunctional research and human capacities available at INSTM, overcoming the environmental threats from global change and local anthropogenic impacts, and narrowing science and technology gaps requires further investments and improvements that this centre can challenge taking part in EU programmes and observation networks targeting the Mediterranean Sea. It is therefore necessary to enhance the technical and research capacities in knowledge management and advanced research goals. The implementation of the INCOMMET project, on that regards, has contributed to reinforce structurally the capacities of INSTM to become a national and regional research centre of excellence for the country and the region and to participate in EU FP.

INCOMMET aimed at providing to INSTM full access to these new tools and approaches to pave the way to its excellence and make it a pivotal regional centre in the field of aquatic and marine sciences.

In line with EU orientations and ERA-WIDE requirements, INCOMMET overall objectives were to :
- increase research excellence of INSTM in the important field of marine environment,
- strengthen the partnership between Tunisian and EU research institutions, beyond the consortium and fostering its participation into the European Research Area (ERA),
- support regional dialogue and sustainable development in the region, and
- address specific environmental problems that Tunisia faces or that have a global character (addressing environmental protection, global climate change, combating biodiversity loss).
This has to be achieved, through reaching the following specific objectives:
- to analyse the current situation and knowledge on marine environment in Tunisia / in the region and to make a thorough analyses of the current situation and existing knowledge regarding observation and marine research in Tunisia in particular related to the Gulf of Gabès
- to make a thorough assessment of the INSTM’s strengths and needs allowing to redefine its strategy and its structural functioning (notably regarding governance and scientific supervision), and to improve its role and capacities to address the sustainable development of Tunisia marine environment and the management of its natural resources. This should particularly lead to a better definition of INSTM scientific strategy to increase its international visibility based on assessment of needs and on a SWOT analysis,
- to strengthen the internal INSTM structuring (in particular regarding human resources, acquisition of new equipment and technologies allowing to reinforce their excellence…), notably through twinning and transfer of knowledge activities (such as training courses, workshops, short-term visits of INSTM researchers to the project’s partners),
- to increase INSTM FP participation capacities thanks to training and education of its staff and to supporting the researchers in their effort to participate, through the setting up of an INSTM European Research Grant Unit,
- to build common research projects with INSTM and its EU partners in the frame of EU calls such as ENPI, FP7 and H2020,
- to reinforce the INSTM visibility, role and interactions with EU and regional actors, notably through structuring INSTM external relations, notably towards institutional representatives (concerned ministries in Tunisia, European countries and the EU), Research centers in the MPC and in Europe and existing theme-related networks,
- finally, to conduct Dissemination and Communication Actions on the INCOMMET project outputs and results, notably concerning its expertise regarding marine ecosystems.

These objectives were achieved through combining support, training and coordinating activities, assessment and internal benchmarking, deployment of an ambitious internal roadmap to strengthen structurally and scientifically the governance of INSTM, setting up twinning activities and finally deploying a strong dissemination and communication policy.

Project Results:
INCOMMET being not a research project, S&T results are not to be expected. However the project activities as technical workshops involved emerging instrumentations deployed for the first time in Tunisian waters, observations were original enough to deserve ongoing short publications. The observations were used in oral or poster communications during the INCOMMET international conference and might lead to further technological development. Moreover, the inventories of the scientific results and their use as background information for the setting up of new research proposal could be relevant information for further scientific development.
The main outcomes of this three year project are:

- An updated inventory of scientific results related to the Tunisian marine environment and particularly in the Gulf of Gabès
- An assessment of strengths and needs of INSTM and Internal recommendations based on the assessment
- Training courses for Tunisian scientists on different scientific topics
- Training for Tunisian administrative personnel and scientists on EU matters
- Workshops for Tunisian scientists with experiments at sea
- Twinning and short-term visits between partners
- Creation at INSTM of a European research Grant Unit
- Support for priority setting to identify opportunities in European programmes
- Lobbying activities to enhance recognition of INSTM as a centre of excellence
- Internal and scientific structuring of INSTM
- Launch of an international mixed laboratory
- Design of a common research programme on the Gulf of Gabès
- International conference and dissemination actions

1. An updated inventory of scientific results related to the Tunisian marine environment and particularly in the Gulf of Gabès

Several research studies were conducted in the Gulf of Gabès area to point out the main driving features of the physical and biological functioning of this highly productive ecosystem. The inventory of scientific results related to this area intended to highlight the main observation activities and the research findings in order to pave the way to further investigations in this area.
It was concluded that the Gulf of Gabès:
- despite its high oligotrohic characteristics (Low phytoplankton biomass), it maintains high fishery productivity;
- nutrients are not completely depleted and could be maintained by several sources such as vertical mixing and saharan dust deposit;
- Modified Atlantic Water circulates in the Gulf of Gabès between 50 and 100 m depth and shows seasonal variability with a strong winter advection. This water mass could contribute to the accumulation of phytoplankton standing stock by did not show specific peculiarity in terms of population composition and structure.
- Phytoplankton biomass is dominated by pico and nanoplanktonic organisms. The main groups contributing to the population structure were identified using chemotaxomonic approach. Molecular approach is in the way to be used in order to identify the main contributors to this biomass.
- high protozoa abundance was reported in the Gulf, as they are the main grazers of pico and nano size classes, the microbial food web is likely to be the prevalent trophic pathway in the Gulf of Gabès.
- top-down control of the phytoplankton biomass, preventing biomass accumulation, is highly suspected in the gulf of Gabès and needs to be confirmed using grazing experiments.

It is highly recommended to tap into expertise and research opportunities that this ecosystem is particularly well positioned to provide — such as creating new knowledge about the enrichment of the marine environment by saharan dust, a potential source of nutrients. This phenomenon boosts the growth of phytoplankton. Valuable information about the underlying mechanisms can be gathered in the Gulf of Gabès.

2. An assessment of strengths and needs of INSTM and Internal recommendations based on the assessment

A thorough assessment of INSTM strengths and needs was conducted by two external experts from Canada, Pr Serge DEMERS, Director of the Marine Science Institute in Rimouski and France, Pr Catherine JEANDEL, Deputy director of the Laboratoire d’Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiale.
The designation of these experts was based on their international reputation and their respective experience with North American and European research systems. The representatives have evaluated INSTM. The analysis sought to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the Institute, and the representatives formulated a series of recommendations to improve the performance of INSTM also its operation and development activities to meet national and international criteria that should help the Institute to build a "road map" for the next years. This evaluation consisted of meetings with the executive director and the staff of INSTM allowing representatives to analyze the potential of the Institute, the needs in terms of cooperation, while considering the vision of development of the institution. The representatives have made an institutional diagnosis of INSTM and formulate a set of recommendations. The representatives recognize that the staff is strongly motivated and that the research conducted are of quality. The topics fit well within the context of national and international requirements in oceanography. INSTM is composed of a network of Centres distributed on the Tunisian coast which may be viewed as strength even though some reorganization is needed. The organization in four national laboratories which allows harmonizing the research around sets of themes clearly defined is also seen as strength. However, several points need to be considered to improve the dynamics of the Institute. The point we thought was the most critical was the administrative burden of the Institute. All stakeholders interviewed expressed the wish that the budgets should be directly administered by the Institute by modifying the management structure of the institute. To improve the administrative operation of the entire structure, the following main suggestions are put forward: 1) establish an administrative department of the budget with a service responsible of the financial resources (both internal and external) and a service of management, including three sub services: human resources, purchasing and contracts and services; 2)establish a technical direction (logistics, buildings, maintenance, IT network ...) with sub-services devoted to the vessel, the museum and the library and 3) ultimately set up a direction of research, which manages funds dedicated to laboratories.

3. Training courses for Tunisian scientists on different scientific topics

In compliance with the planned activities thirteen training sessions were performed. About three hundred attendees participated. Report on each training is produced and made available through the project website. The scientific topics covered were:
- Toxic phytoplankton in aquaculture production area
The training consisted on the identification of cell morphology of toxic phytoplankton that can affect shellfish farm and aquaculture installations. Light microscopy and isolation and techniques culture was adopted. The objective of this course is to improve the skills of the participants in taxonomy and morphology for research purposes and for practical monitoring of phytoplankton.

- Data Management
The course aimed to provide participants with both background information and practical exercises that explore specific technical methodologies of data representation and analysis using both Geographic Information Systems and Ocean Data View software. Topics covered also include fundamental notions of data sharing, metadata standards, and marine data format types, the World Data System, the World Ocean Database and Atlas.
- Statistics and Data Treatment
The purpose of this course was to introduce and apply methods for basic statistical: Study of distributions, sampling data (means, standard deviations); comparison of several samples (comparison tests of means and variances), statistics doubles (linear and nonlinear) and statistics multiple: principal component analysis (PCA).
- Marine Microbial Ecology Methods: who does what?
The course is aimed at offering specialized training in a wide array of methods related to this fascinating field of research and it targets advanced graduate students, PhD students, post-docs, and early researchers. The topics covered are single cell day: Microscopy, single cell day: Flow Cytometry and nucleic acid day: genes, genomes and activity.
- Remote sensing
The courses covered introduction to Remote Sensing : generalities, physical methods, image processing and applications, Systems of sensors and vectors, restitution of ocean surface parameters by remote sensing, tools of "processing": software formats and practice, fisheries applications and interpretation of visible and thermal imaging for studies of surface circulation in the Mediterranean
- Flow cytometry applied to the marine field
The main topics covered were, principles of flow cytometry, nature of optical signals, overview of flow cytometry and instruments, cell sorting, processing / Data Analysis, compensation, applications in Marine Biology and Microbial Ecology, automated flow cytometry, high frequency in situ observation of phytoplankton, practice on the INSTM flow cytometer : phytoplankton analysis in natural samples, staining of heterotrophic prokaryotes and result analysis with the SUMMIT software.

- Taxonomy of Mediterranean Toxic Algae
The course aimed to the identification of Mediterranean toxic phytoplankton species. It consisted of theoretical and practical sessions, with examination of a broad collection of fixed, live and slide material. Relevant techniques for species identification were presented.
- Fluorescent In Situ Hybridization: Application on planktonic organisms
Main topics covered were: Fundamentals of the technique, Importance of the technique in identification, quantification and diversity of micro organisms, application of the technique by extensive lab work on cultivated organisms and organisms from the natural environment as well as participant specific material, use of epifluorescence microscopy and Image-analysis.
- Impact of Saharan Dust Wind Events
The training course was interested to describe the atmospheric cycle of Saharan dust from emission to deposition and to study their potential impact on the marine biosphere and environment. The training focused on the case of Mediterranean sea.
- Prokaryotes in extremes Environments
The training was an opportunity to make participants aware of all possible anaerobic (life in the absence of oxygen) and microaerobic (life at low oxygen partial pressure) metabolisms, which beside aerobicones (life in the presence of oxygen),contribute significantly to organic matter mineralization on Earth. At this occasion, lectures were delivered, followed by samplings and a field trip , together with training courses.
- Coupled Modeling Tools Hydrodynamics- Bio-geochemistry in Marine Ecosystems
The objective of this workshop was to tuck the theoretical and practical aspects of hydrodynamic-biogeochemical coupled models to 3D in order to study the vulnerability of marine ecosystems.
- Statistics
Two training workshops were held, the fist focused on the XLSTAT and the second on R software package

4. Training course for Tunisian administrative personnel and scientists on EU matters

Training workshop was held to respond to the following requests: What is the seven Framework Programme of the European Commission (its structure and objectives)? What opportunities for Mediterranean countries (participation rules, calls for proposals)? How to join European Project (The selection criteria, setting up a relevant project)? And How to ensure the project monitoring (financial management and reporting)?
The training targeted not only researchers but also administrative personnel in order to pave the way to the creation of an INSTM European Research Grant Unit that will be specialized in EU calls for proposals

5. Workshops for Tunisian scientists with experiments at sea

Two workshops on experimentations at sea were performed during the second half of 2013. Twenty seven attendees participated to the experimentation.

- Workshop on "Instrumentation at Sea "
This workshop aimed at presenting the different steps needed to measure several parameters in oceanography. It included preparation of the cruise: what instrument, which sensors, which parameters to measure and implementation methods; constraints, compromise and practical implementations onboard. A typical case of the deployment of a glider was shown.
- Workshop on “High Frequency Observation of Phytoplankton and Zooplankton”
The workshop included theoretical presentations and practical exercises. Participants were split into 3 groups. Each group attended one day cruise on board the RV Hannibal (INSTM) along different transect in the Gulf of Gabès with operating automated instruments to analyse surface seawater and collect simultaneously, every 15 or 20 minutes, distribution data on:
- Phytoplanktonat the single cell level by using an automated flow cytometer (Cytosense, with an image-in-flow device. Training on board included presentation of the methodology and data treatment.
- Zooplankton by using an under-water video-profiler (UVP) and a Laser In-Situ Scattering and Transmissiometry instrument (LISST).
The equipment was completed with autonomous CTD carrying additional sensors.
For the groups not on the ship, training included lectures and practical work using a Flowcam, a Zooscan, dissecting and inverted microscopes. Data treatment of the outputs of UVP and LISST were also addressed.

A video disk, was performed and shows for the first time, the implementation of continuous analysis operation of marine particles from the picophytoplankton and meso-zooplankton, playing a key role in the functioning of the ocean and in climate regulation.
The video is available at this link:

6. Twinning and short-term visits between partners

Fifteen short term visits were ran during the project and mainly targeted Tunisian scientists working in EU laboratories from partners institutions.
The scientific topics covered were related to: HPLC pigments analysis, Copepods reproduction and feeding experiments, flow cytometry and seawater sample analysis with a FACSCalibur flow cytometer, hydrodynamic numerical modeling using ROMS code, conventional flow cytometry and high frequency flow cytometry observation using automated flow cytometers, ,Fluorescent In Situ Hybridization (FISH), Diversity of picoeukaryotic organisms (Denaturing Gradient Gel Electrophoresis, DGGE), Zooplankton feeding experiments, Phytoplankton Taxonomy and Identification, Analysis of phytoplankton and heterotrophic prokaryotes of marine samples by flow cytometry, Phycotoxin analysis, Phytoplankton genetic species identification and EU-projects Management.

7. Creation at INSTM of a European research Grant Unit

The setting up of the European Grant Unit, although well approved by the INSTM administration and the head of institution and planned in the proposal of the institute re-organization, the legal framework to create this unit should be approved by the tutorship ministry in order to mobilize the human and financial resources to this structure. This process is very heavy and might take several years to be finalized.

8. Support for priority setting to identify opportunities in European programmes

To set priorities for the incoming programme, the project proceeded to a mapping of existing projects and their funding schemes. This step was necessary to identify where INSTM has been successful and indicate which EU programmes best fit the INSTM priorities and capabilities.
Based on the current scientific structure of INSTM, organized into laboratories with well identified thematic and missions, and on its current scientific commitment, priorities areas for INSTM were highlighted.
It was noticed that INSTM was very successful in responding to the Cross border cooperation in the Mediterranean programme under the European neighborhood and partnership instrument (ENPI). The priorities of this programme well fit the INSTM research orientations. It is recommended to increase awareness about this programme among the Tunisian scientific communities and the socio-economic actors.

9. Lobbying activities to enhance recognition of INSTM as a centre of excellence

INCOMMET actively participated to develop efforts to reinforce the international scientific recognition of INSTM. Several contacts and initiatives were initiated with local and regional authorities to enhance the visibility of INSTM and interaction with EU and regional actors. This was mainly materialized in the participations to events related to FP7 INCO such the ETC and FETRIC Tunisian BILAT projects, to contribute to the assessment of Tunisia participation to the FP7 programme and to the review of the Science and Technology cooperation between the European Union and Tunisia, and to the FP7 INCO-Net projects, namely the MIRA final conference and the MEDSPRING activities related to identification of good practices of successful research. Good synergies were also established between the ongoing Tunisian four ERAWIDE projects. A water cluster alliance started to use the past and ongoing EU-TN project collaborations as lever for economic development. The idea is to bring together teams of high scientific expertise and working in an international context within a cluster to capitalize and build on the expertise, increase visibility and action strength.

10. Internal and scientific structuring of INSTM

Based on the experts recommendations coming out of the INSTM assessment and inspired from the national vision of the promotion of the sector of scientific research in Tunisia, a road map on INSTM scientific and internal structuring was developed and covered the INSTM infrastructure in terms of space and sites, the administrative and scientific internal structuring, the participation of INSTM to research projects with EU partners in the frame of EU calls such as ENPI and the improvement of INSTM links with national institutions, national and regional socio-economic bodies, and EU partners and institutions.

The key issues identified in this new strategy were, the change of the legal status of the Institute, which will impact on the budget administration and provide more flexibility in the administrative management, the re-organization of the research structures and the setting of a coordination body between the research laboratories which will provide more synergy between the research teams and the prioritization of the research programmes and ensure their compliance with international requirements.

11. Launch of an international mixed laboratory

During the elaboration of a potential International Mixed Laboratory, the project faced a similar initiative in Tunisia conducted by an institution outside the consortium. The INCOMMET consortium tried to connect to this initiative and proposed his vision for this LMI, however the covered scientific topics were out of INSTM current priorities. The INCOMMET consortium decided to formulate a different proposal based on scientific topics of common interest. Several consultations were ran among scientists to identify scientific topics that could be of common interest to be addressed in the planned LMI. However, probably also due to the collaborative effort in designing the PIROG3 project previously submitted to the second call of ENPI-CBC-MED, the proposals converged towards an integrated study of the functioning of the Gulf of Gabès ecosystem. They included the following area
- Competences in biology could focus on the dynamics of the microbial assemblages and quantifying the primary production capacity of the Gulf of Gabès. Quantifying the transfer of matter and energy to higher trophic levels would also be appealing to both institutes, the ultimate goal being to make an estimate of the sustainable fish stock that could be produced by the ecosystem and that would be a major reference for the governance of the Gulf of Gabès.
- Biogeochemists would document the sources of nutrients and would have to establish how they are maintained in excess. In addition the impact of Saharan dust on the microbial trophic network would to be investigated.
- The hydrodynamism of the Gulf of Gabès also plays an important role on the functioning of its ecosystem. More work is needed regarding the intrusion of modified Atlantic water that should be define at small spatial scale. The impact of tides also needs to be further documented. Satellite information (ocean color, altimetry) must be coupled to field observations.
- All the collected information will be of great interest to fuel different kinds of models focusing on physics, biogeochemistry and biology, as well as coupled models.

The concerned institutions are now prospecting the appropriate structure and framework to undertake this collaborative project.

12. Design of a common research programme on the Gulf of Gabès

A project proposal PIROG3 ( Providing links between Innovative Research and Observation, and the Gulf of Gabes Governance) focusing in the dynamics of the trophic levels and the impact of Saharan dust winds on phytoplankton development was submitted to ENPI CBC Mediterranean Sea funding. The innovative research and observation that PIROG3 proposed will build through the investigation of the microbial ecosystem functioning under anthropic pressures and submitted to Saharan dust pulses, will contribute to define conditions for the sustainable production of living resources, for the biodiversity conservation and consequently for fostering economic activities and employment. The implementation of the project recommendations to the various stakeholders previously surveyed and informed, will contribute to the socio-economic development of the region and will contribute to its enhancement.
Regretfully, the proposal was rejected, however the thematic was well appreciated and has the potential to be improved. The consortium including mainly INSTM and AMU will resubmitted another proposal in the new call of proposal planned for 2015.

13. International conference and dissemination actions

The INCOMMET International Conference on Marine Research in the Mediterranean: scientific priorities and societal challenges was held from 18th to 20th November 2014 in Hammamet, in compliance with the pre-established programme.

About one hundred participants took part to this event from 6 countries (Tunisia, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the USA) and representing 19 research institutions, academics and NGOs. The full list of participants and their presentations are available on the project website:

The international conference was an opportunity to present and discuss the latest developments in marine observing techniques, including the latest advances in high frequency observation of biological and physical parameters for a better strategy for monitoring and surveillance of coastal areas.

Among the recommendations that came out of this conference:
- The need, to experiment in Tunisian water, of equipment to detect small-sized organisms such as bacteria and small phytoplankton at small time scales (less than 1 hour) in order to apprehend environmental issue such as the harmful algae bloom
- Interesting applications on use of high frequency data are currently being developed in countries like the US, France and the Netherlands. It is highly recommended to interact with these teams to benefit from their experience.
- The interest to establish a Mediterranean network of high frequency observation systems for phytoplankton, France and Italy are already equipped, Tunisia is in the way to be equipped. This infrastructure will be an interesting basis for comparative studies and inter-calibration exercises.
- Tunisia, through INSTM, must initiate the debate on the establishment of a national monitoring strategy that responds to current environmental issues like climate change, biodiversity loss and the proliferation of harmful algae.
- International projects for the identification of planktonic organism genomes are underway such as the Micro B3 project and its initiative "the Ocean Sampling Day". INCOMMET encourages this initiative and invites Tunisian researchers to participate and benefit from the project infrastructure and the expertise of the project team in terms of meta-genomics.

Potential Impact:

The Expected impacts of INCOMMET is to reinforce INSTM in the achievement of its institutional assignments to:

- conduct research in domains directly or indirectly linked to the marine environment and its resources
- participate to regional, national and international networks dealing with the marine environment
- transfer its competence and research results to policy makers and sea stakeholders as well as to other scientists
- support decision making in the prospect of a sustainable management of the sea and its resources
- contribute to disseminating marine culture and raising public consciousness of the protection and conservation of the sea and its biodiversity.

Regional and national impacts

By establishing the present status of INSTM in WP2 through a SWOT analysis, INCOMMET identified knowledge and technology gaps/needs, that were significantly addressed, in WP3 to achieve excellence and improve INSTM capacities to conduct research on marine environment and natural resources and develop its observation networks, in WP4 to support INSTM in structuring its international collaborations, notably through European programmes and in WP5 to start proposing structural reforms to increase the INSTM scientific visibility.

The capacity increase acquired through INCOMMET, in some relevant area such as new methods in marine microbiology, planktonology and physical oceanography, all focusing on new techniques and approaches in marine observations will help the institute contributing to address the constraints affecting the Tunisian coastal zones and territorial waters, whether from natural or anthropogenic origin, thus offering a unique chance to manage the coastal area differently, by testing alternative models of sustainable development which care for the environment more than has been done in the past.

Through pre-existing networks that INSTM is currently maintaining, mainly through the ODINAFRICA/IODE/IOC/UNESCO programme with others African research institutions, INCOMMET involved participants from African countries to participate to the INCOMMET WP3 training activities.
The concept of INCOMMET, as a capacity building project, was also presented several times to the African partners to forester their participation to European research programmes and through WP5 by granting access to the centre of excellence facilities.

By improving the INSTM competences in some specific scientific topics, INCOMMET increased the authority of INSTM in advising regional and national institutions, policy makers and stakeholders, as examples:
- The improve of INSTM skill in terms of toxic phytoplankton identification is a great support to the maintaining of the national phytoplankton monitoring programme leaded by the DSA (Direction Générale de la Santé) and operated by INSTM.
- The development of the flow cytometry analysis at INSTM and the twining actions set in place with the cytometry platform of the University of Aix Marseille, will contribute to a new approach in the analysis of sea water and therefore to the conservation of the sea quality and its biodiversity, which are among the mandates of the Littoral Protection and Management Agency (APAL). This is also relevant to some ongoing national infrastructure projects, like the Taparoura project in charge of the management of the northern coasts of Sfax.

International impacts

INCOMMET was the basis of the proposal of an international research project focussed on the Gulf of Gabès, particularly characterized by its high biological productivity and rich biodiversity. The proposal was not successful to get the required funds from the European commission, however it constitutes a relevant basis that could be improved and resubmitted in the coming calls.

The INCOMMET consortium strengthened the international networking of INSTM in the field of marine environment and by the way, increase its visibility at the international level and consequently also at the regional and national level. As a result, greater awareness of the INSTM’s abilities has already translated into two new projects with EU partners. One of these focuses on sustainable tourism; the other aims to set up an observing system for various physical and biological parameters.

New contacts were established with research organizations in Germany, Italy and Spain, and existing collaborations with partners in France gained momentum. INCOMMET notably contributed to the identification of research priorities regarding water and marine pollution in the Mediterranean region, in the wider context of the Mediterranean Innovation and Research Coordination Action (MIRA) project. INCOMMET also tapped into expertise and research opportunities that Tunisia is particularly well positioned to provide — such as creating new knowledge about the topic of common interest of a number of European and Tunisian teams related to enrichment of the marine environment by saharan dust on phytoplankton.

Impact on EU policy

INCOMMET contributed to establish a scientific continuity between EU ERA and Tunisia, one of EU neighbour countries. Synergies were also established between the ongoing Tunisian four ERAWIDE projects. A water cluster alliance started to use the past and ongoing EU-TN project collaborations as lever for economic development. The idea is to bring together teams of high scientific expertise and working in an international context within a cluster to capitalize and build on the expertise, increase visibility and action strength.

INCOMMET, through the scientific activities conducted, promoted awareness raising and integration with existing EU legislation aspects especially for the Mediterranean Coastal Zone Management by enhancing the instauration of precautionary measures that will include major environmental threats deriving from climate change as well as from increased pressures on coastal zones use.

INSTM played a crucial role by bridging the gap between decision makers, local stakeholders and the scientific community. Such a role was paralleled by an increased visibility of INSTM at the international level. Results of the project was made available to local, national and regional institutions. Through active participation in meetings, conferences, and to international cooperation projects meetings, INCOMMET reached many more regional stakeholders and beyond. The project was very successful in, promoting regional cooperation and particularly in enhancing the Euro-Mediterranean collaboration, increasing awarness for the FP7 anf H2020 and promotre participation in the programme and provide positive impacts on EU institutions and foster them to collaborate with INSTM. European institutions will benefit as well through the development of a sustainable cooperation with a key emerging international actor (INSTM) in the field of marine science.

Disseminating activities

Efficient communication is one of the key factors to the INCOMMET success. In order to improve the visibility of INSTM and its role in the region, to strengthen the awareness on S&T collaboration opportunities between INSTM and Europe and to increase the effective participation of INSTM to FP7, a special attention was devoted to spread project actions/results and to spread information on the INSTM to a wider audience outside the project network and to set up a virtuous cycle allowing the multiplication of project information and knowledge, as well as of collaboration opportunities.

The dissemination actions particularly targeted:
- European and Tunisian Scientists in the field of marine Environment, including partners of European S&T existing networks and collaborative projects
- Arabic and African Scientists collaborating with INSTM in regional and bilateral initiatives in the field of marine environmental research and networking
- Policy makers on regional, national and European level and European Commission officials.
- Relevant stakeholders in Tunisia: research organizations, universities, NCPs, socio-economic actors, etc…..
- The wider public

The overall benefits of INCOMMET in terms of scientific excellence, visibility, and impact require devoting a special care to the dissemination activities, in a comprehensive and socialized manner. In this respect, an entire work package (WP6) was dedicated to this important task.

WP6 includes several actions, amongst which the following ones were performed:
- An internet devoted that include: a section grouping information on the project and the partners; a section devoted to the results obtained from the WP2 and 5 (eg: literature review on marine science related to the Mediterranean area); a section used for advertising events organized by the project, a section summarizing the project’s partners achievements and publications, a section to the training materials planned under WP3 in the form of e-learning courses.
- An INCOMMET leaflet was produced, as part of communication to a wider public audience.
- Six scientific publications were produced on results obtained during the INCOMMET technical workshops involving emerging instruments or during the short terms visits of INSTM researchers conducting part of their work in EU partners laboratories.
- Poster presentations in international conferences used as a communication channel to widespread the INCOMMET project’s evolution and achievements.
- A video disk, performed in the framework of the high frequency monitoring of phytoplankton and zooplankton workshop held in November 2013 on board the research vessel "Hannibal", shows for the first time, the implementation of continuous analysis operation of marine particles from the picophytoplankton and meso-zooplankton, playing a key role in the functioning of the ocean and in climate regulation. The video is available at this link:
- The INCOMMET International Conference on Marine Research in the Mediterranean: scientific priorities and societal challenges was held from 18th to 20th November 2014. About one hundred participants took part to this event from 6 countries (Tunisia, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the USA) and representing 19 research institutions, academics and NGOs. The conference offered a forum for researchers, users and stakeholders across the Mediterranean area to present and discuss recent developments in high frequency observation of the marine environment and strategies for effective monitoring of coastal areas.
The conference provided to participants, the opportunity to present their latest scientific results. It was an opportunity for local researchers to meet potential European partners, contact points in the Mediterranean countries and local stakeholders.

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