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Marine Coastal Ecosystems Biodiversity and Services in a Changing World

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MaCoBioS (Marine Coastal Ecosystems Biodiversity and Services in a Changing World)

Reporting period: 2020-06-01 to 2021-11-30

Marine and coastal ecosystems (MCEs) such as seagrass beds or kelp forests are vital for human health and well-being as they provide us with many services such as food, cleaning our waters, protection against floods and a buffer against climate change. As of 2017, according to the United Nations, about 40% of the world’s population was living within 100 km of the coast, representing ca. 2.4 billion people that directly depend on these ecosystems. However, MCEs are threatened globally by increased environmental pressures, either related to climate change or more direct human impacts such as pollution or overfishing. Addressing the degradation of MCEs is thus a global priority and a European one. The main challenge to ensure efficient and integrated management and conservation strategies for European MCEs to face climate change is to fill knowledge gaps on inter-relations between climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem services and ensure an effective transfer of knowledge to relevant stakeholders.
To help address this challenge, MaCoBioS will develop empirical models on the interaction between climate change, biodiversity, functions and services in marine coastal ecosystems. It will also establish a framework to assess the vulnerability of marine socio-ecological systems under climate change scenarios and evaluate the effectiveness of nature-based solutions at enhancing the resilience capacity of MCEs. The results will provide evidence-based guidance for marine policy formulation and assist in EU strategies on MCEs, biodiversity and climate change.
Many partners contributed to systematic literature reviews to set the ground on state of the art. One review focused on tipping points and environmental limits for foundation species of MCEs to understand the effect of climate change on these species. Another one focused on the methodological approaches for multi-risk and cumulative impact appraisal in MCEs. A third one assessed the broad range of indicators and metrics underpinning the methodological approach supporting the evaluation of the adaptive capacity of coastal communities. Those reviews already provided interesting outputs. Preliminary results have been presented at several conferences, and three manuscripts will be submitted in 2022. Additionally, after reviewing relevant indicators for each MCE, we defined key state indicators of relevance to the Good Environmental State descriptors established by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) that are expected to respond to climate change, and that can be ultimately related to ecosystem services provision through a production function.

Furthermore, the project has been collating and collecting extensive and diverse data and started analysing them. After defining the biodiversity dimensions in each MCE across impact or protection gradients and the biodiversity-ecosystem services model framework, a database containing biodiversity inventories for each MCE was built and is being analysed through two different approaches: Structural Equation Model and Multiple Regressions. Following the co-design of the conceptual multi-risks assessment framework (MRAF) focusing on the key ecosystems characterising MaCoBioS ecoregions, all data available from multiple open-source data portals (e.g. Copernicus CMEMS, CORDEX initiatives, EU-Atlas of the Sea) were collected and started to be analysed using Machine Learning based models. Also, available data on existing and potential Nature-Based Solutions (NBSs) actions in MCEs were collated from the existing databases to evaluate NBSs effectiveness based on existing actions. Despite the challenge of travel restrictions, new data have been collected with novel techniques (e.g. eDNA, acoustic, visual census, paleoclimatological) in a few case studies. On the policy side, a comprehensive review of the national (and subnational for some cases) policy framework was conducted for all 9 case studies with a focus on biodiversity protection and climate change. The major stakeholders in these case studies have been investigated, listed, and classified into major categories. Due to the pandemic, the Dialogue with stakeholders shifted to online-based activities and communication. The website’s ‘News and Views’ section was launched to improve accessibility to external stakeholder audiences, and a stakeholder engagement plan was developed and initiated. A public awareness survey on climate change was launched in November 2021.

MaCoBioS has been cooperating with other projects (e.g. FutureMARES, PREDICT, MOVE, MOVE-ON, etc.), materialised by a shared publication on NBSs and the presence of MaCoBioS in NetworkNature Task Forces. In terms of communication, activities have been promoted through the Website and the ‘News & Views’ section, promotional videos, the climate change survey, and an increasing social media presence. MaCoBioS was also represented at the COP26 through the Barbadian delegation.
The progress in achieving the impact foreseen by the end of the project and beyond is presented below. Data are still being collected at this stage, and models are being refined or developed, nonetheless:

- Preliminary models have been developed, linking biodiversity with ecosystem services. At the same time, the links between climate change and biodiversity are being investigated through the tipping points and safe operating space lens, along with future climate change scenarios. Together, those outcomes will contribute to ensuring the competitiveness of the EU in research and innovation (R&I) actions to predict climate change effects on MCEs better.

- The team started the operationalisation of the MRAF in the ecoregions through Machine Learning based models (i.e. Random Forest model – ongoing activity), allowing to understand complex interrelations among identified variables. This work will promote new implementations or evolution of existing NBSs wherever needed.

- A concept notes of a handbook on marine NBSs, initiated by MaCoBioS under NetworkNature TaskForce 2, Workstream 5 is being developed and will be achieved in cooperation with other projects. If supported by the EC, this handbook will provide evidence and a step-by-step guide for the design, implementation, and monitoring broadly to help the EU reach one of its priority objectives: making a step towards a smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth.

- A conceptual model is being developed for coral reefs linking Pressure - State - Ecosystem Services and will soon be tested with long term monitoring. In parallel, experiments on seagrass beds are planned for 2022 to understand ecosystem services capacities under a range of ecological conditions (cooperation in another project). By demonstrating that preserving biodiversity help adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, policymakers might finally put enough effort into halting the loss of biodiversity and meeting the Paris Agreement’s targets.

- MaCoBioS had opportunities to provide suggestions to the action plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems from the EC that was open for consultation until May 13th, 2021. This action plan is one of the deliverables announced in the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030. We expect to help refine EU strategies, policies and actions regarding biodiversity and climate change. It will support the EU in meeting its objectives and engagements and reinforce EU resilience to face climate change.
Split shot Seagrass bed / mangrove in Bonaire. © Ewan Tregarot