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Marine Ecosystem Restoration in Changing European Seas

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MERCES (Marine Ecosystem Restoration in Changing European Seas)

Reporting period: 2017-06-01 to 2018-11-30

Direct and indirect human pressures on marine ecosystems are expected to increase considerably in the next few decades, leading to a serious loss of marine biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem functioning. The existing protection measures for marine ecosystems, though adopted increasingly worldwide, are clearly still insufficient to reverse marine ecosystem degradation, especially in areas heavily degraded by man’s activities. Reducing cumulative local human impacts is the most immediate and effective strategy for the conservation and recovery of marine ecosystems. However, conservation strategies alone cannot reverse the loss of natural capital; well-designed restoration practices remain indispensable. Marine ecosystem restoration is a very young topic, the MERCES project aims to generate and use new and innovative protocols in experimental restoration case study sites. Specific aims:
1) improve existing and develop new restoration/rehabilitation actions on vulnerable European marine habitats including shallow soft and hard bottoms as well as deep-sea ecosystems;
2) provide tools and guidelines for the integration of the Restoration Agenda into the delivery of major policy objectives related to (blue and green) economic growth, through analysing the consequences of marine restoration actions on ecosystem services as well as on policy and socioeconomic issues;
3) adapt restoration measures to increase the resilience of ecosystems in European seas to climate change;
4) enhance EU conservation capacity and preserve natural capital;
5) provide robust contributions to EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, Marine Strategy Framework Directive and Maritime Spatial Planning Directive;
6) conduct cost-benefit socio-economic analyses for marine restoration measures;
7) identify the benefits of establishing a network of restoration sites;
8) identify the policy/legal/governance frameworks facilitating the success of restoration actions;
9) create new employment opportunities and develop world markets for European industry.
During the first 30 months of project, the MERCES partnership was very active and collaborative according to the multidisciplinary nature of the Consortium (skills on marine ecology, spatial modelling, marine ecosystem restoration, law, policy and governance, socio-economics, knowledge transfer, dissemination and communication) and the different objectives of the 10 WPs.
The work can be summarized as follows:
• organization and participation to the MERCES: i) Kick-Off meeting (Rome, July 2016), ii) 1st Annual Meeting (Heraklion, June 2017); iii) 2nd Annual Meeting (Barcelona, May 2018) iv) several WP internal workshops to discuss the tasks to plan activities to submit deliverables and to achieve milestones in due time;
• revision of the literature on different topics: mapping of degraded habitats, identification of major pressures, restoration actions, methodologies, best practices and cost analysis, ecological interactions among species and target habitat forming species, international legal and governance structures involved on the marine restoration;
• field work: survey, monitoring of restoration experiments and starting new restoration experiments in different habitats along the European seas;
• starting of data collation of the case studies for the analyses of ecosystem services and socio-economic benefits behind the restoration activities and discussion on the indicators to be monitored to assess the restoration success;
• opening a Business Club, contacting and including members from different industrial and economic sectors potentially interested on marine restoration;
• two webinars dedicated to the industrial stakeholders were presented and archived in the MERCES website with open access;
• participation to national and international conferences and events including the Open Science Session in the framework of the H2020 projects SponGES and ATLAS, the joint event of MERCES, SponGES and ATLAS projects during the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity (Montreal, Canada) and the European conference of the Society for ecological Restoration (Reykjavik, Iceland);
• dissemination and communication of the project to general public with interviews (national and local newspapers and TV), several posts on social media, scientific and no scientific publications (5 newsletters, brochures, posters and factsheets);
• opening and continuous update of the MERCES website and repository in Zenodo.
MERCES will generate the first directory of degraded EU marine ecosystems. This will foster new policy approaches at different levels of governance to promote restoration actions of marine habitats and will allow the costs and benefits of marine restoration at EU level. The huge effort expended by MERCES researchers in field and laboratory experiments will allow new restoration methodologies, tools and practices. Pilot studies will allow to set up restoration protocols in different marine environments covering shallow and deep-sea habitats and to assess the effectiveness of the proposed actions for a new generation of restoration practitioners. The results of the MERCES field experiments together with environmental and socioeconomic analyses on the performance of restoration actions in selected habitats and ecosystems will identify key processes and factors for managing marine ecosystem resilience. A major effort is also spent in public engagement, to disseminate and communicate the activities in MERCES. This will provide a strong platform for the transfer of knowledge to the whole restoration community, including business, public administrations and civil society. A major impact of MERCES is to create and enhance social awareness about the societal approval of marine restoration measures, providing administrations and policy makers with guidelines on promoting and putting in place economically and ecologically sustainable restoration actions. Decision makers will be able to take up innovative and tested best practices of marine restoration knowing their operational strengths and weaknesses in different marine habitats/ecosystems. There will be substantial knowledge exchange between MERCES and marine industry since the findings will be translated into practical guidance for industry on how and when to implement marine restoration measures. Coupled with regulatory reform, this will help stimulate private-sector innovation in marine restoration, create economic opportunity as well as promoting sustainable business. The results of MERCES and, in particular, the framing of restoration actions into policy, legal and governance contexts, will provide the basic information to encourage local and European-wide administrations to adopt restoration techniques and technologies newly developed, improved and validated by MERCES. MERCES will provide input to the development and design of legitimate governance arrangements and effective regimes that facilitate restoration.
The aim of the project is to improve existing and develop new restoration approaches