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Marine Ecosystem Restoration in Changing European Seas

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - MERCES (Marine Ecosystem Restoration in Changing European Seas)

Période du rapport: 2018-12-01 au 2020-11-30

Direct and indirect human impacts on marine ecosystems are unprecedented and expected to further increase in the next decades. Protection measures adopted worldwide, are still clearly insufficient to reverse marine ecosystem degradation. Reducing cumulative local human impacts is the most immediate action and the first step for promoting the recovery of degraded marine ecosystems. However, besides conservation strategies, well-planned restoration actions remain indispensable. Marine ecosystem restoration is still very young and available methodologies relatively limited and not standardized yet. MERCES set up and used innovative protocols in experimental restoration case study sites in several EU regions.
The main objectives were:
1. Developing new and specific restoration/rehabilitation methodologies and pilot studies on European marine habitats (shallow soft, hard bottoms and deep-sea ecosystems);
2. Providing tools and guidelines for the integration of the Restoration Agenda (“developing a Blue Agenda”);
3. Developing measures to increase the resilience to climate change;
4. Enhancing EU conservation capacity and preserve the natural capital;
5. Providing robust contributions to EU ‘2020 BS’, ‘MSFD’ and ‘MSPD' objectives;
6. Conducting cost-benefit socio-economic analyses for marine restoration measures;
7. Identifying the benefits of establishing a network of restoration sites;
8. Identifying the policy/legal/governance frameworks facilitating the success of restoration actions;
9. Creating new employment opportunities offered from new professions to develop the “restoration industry”.
MERCES allowed to set up and test the first standardized protocols for restoring a suite of degraded marine habitats and to measure the potential consequences and implications across EU seas. MERCES also investigated the impact of ecological restoration under different socio-economic settings and explored the governmental drivers and models.
Standardizing the current restoration approaches in different marine habitats has been certainly challenging, but the results of the multidisciplinary approach of the MERCES Consortium have surpassed the expectations in many ways. MERCES demonstrated that marine ecological restoration is possible and feasible, and should be encouraged in terms of policies, economic implementation and new job opportunities. MERCES provided an important contribution to the potential perspective of the European Green Deal. This was acknowledged in an European Marine Board policy brief (5, 2019) and MERCES was included in the list of EU-funded Nature Based Solution projects supporting implementation of EU biodiversity policy.
MERCES has explored the potential of restoration actions in shallow waters and on deep-sea habitats at pan-European scale, from Norway to Turkey, implementing a systemic approach to deliver tangible benefits on European Green Deal actions for climate (mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction), biodiversity, health and wellbeing. Restoration studies have focused, through pilot actions, on the most fragile and vulnerable habitats, including seagrass meadows, algal and kelp forests, coralligenous outcrops, cold-water corals, canyons, seamounts and fjords in 25 different pilot areas. More than 20 protocols (species translocation and transplanting, seedling and grazer removal, artificial and biodegradable substrates) for restoration have been tested to increase restoration efficiency and to identify the criteria for the selection of target species and habitats. Both, the success as well as failures of the MERCES pilot restoration actions allowed the identification of best practice for restoration actions, and have clearly established the methodologies that can contribute to the development of a restoration industry, given the major extent of degraded marine habitats in the European seas. MERCES demonstrated that marine restoration is feasible under a number of conditions and that baseline knowledge, synergistic interventions (mitigation and conservation) and stakeholder involvement are crucial for the restoration success (Deliverables: D5.3 D6.4 and D7.5). The involvement of selected stakeholders, if adequately planned and supported by experts, is critical to increase public awareness of the importance of biodiversity and the need for their involvement in large-scale restoration interventions (Deliverables: D7.2 D7.4 D8.4 describing citizen-science campaigns in the EU seas). The MERCES project disseminated the results to a very large audience, with special attention to industrial stakeholders, policy makers and general public (more than 300 events, >20,000 citizens involved). Different tools were employed: 1) webinars and newsletters (5 for the large audience and 3 tailored for business); 2) international meetings (UN Ocean, Oceans and Climate Change Governance, OECD, BLUEMED, Blue Economy research & industry dialogue and All-Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance); 3) scientific conferences (World Conference on Marine Biology, SER–both European and International- and 4) a story map of the project (https://arcg.is/0aXGq9). Public engagement has been a priority of MERCES and several initiatives have been organized with the enthusiastic participation of scientists and public (EU Research nights, Citizen Science and Ocean literacy, training and summer schools to test different restoration protocols for students including those of the IMBRSea International Master).
The lessons learnt from the MERCES project can have a profound impact on the future of marine restoration in Europe, and given the dimension of degraded marine habitats in European seas support the development of a dedicated business. Despite this, the gaps between terrestrial and marine ecosystems are still evident and marine restoration requires further support for becoming convenient and effective. In particular, a crucial point is the definition of the costs and the potential for scaling up of marine restoration, in either coastal areas and in the deep sea. The technical challenge posed by the deep-sea restoration, and the high costs for working in these extreme environments make the restoration of deep-sea ecosystems an additional challenge for the future. The successful restoration activities carried out in different shallow and deep-sea habitats can contribute to two EU directives: the MSFD and the MSP promoting the ‘idea’ of restoration as a tool for achieving Good Environmental Status in European seas, protecting the health of our seas and oceans and preserving/regenerating their natural capital. The outputs of the MERCES project support also the 2050 vision for the EU Biodiversity Strategy “European Union biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides - its natural capital - are protected, valued and appropriately restored for biodiversity's intrinsic value and for their essential contribution to human wellbeing and economic prosperity”. Healthy seas offer multiple benefits and ecosystem services, including the maintenance of a healthy environment, food provision, pollutants’ abatement, and other products needed for our wellbeing, as well as cultural, educational and recreational benefits. The MERCES project provided a first relevant contribution to identify and quantify the economic and social effects of marine restoration and of the recovery of ecosystem services.
The aim of the project is to improve existing and develop new restoration approaches