The giants of the Mediterranean Sea
Starting from 10 January 2022 until 9 January 2026, Triton will be a partner of the European LIFE project LIFE20 NAT/IT/001371 CONCEPTU Maris “CONservation of CEtaceans and Pelagic sea TUrtles in Med: Managing Actions for their Recovery In Sustainability”
Among the national and international partners, there are ISPRA, Institute for Environmental Protection and Environmental Research, as coordinating beneficiary, International Center for Environmental Monitoring-CIMA Research Foundation, Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Climate Change-CMCC Foundation, EcoOcéan Institute, Capo Carbonara Marine Protected Area, Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, the University of Milano-Bicocca, the University of Palermo, the University of Turin and the University of Valencia.
This project was designed on the awareness that the Mediterranean sea is undergoing severe changes due to increasing anthropogenic pressures. Cetaceans and pelagic marine turtles are among the most charismatic and important species of our seas and crucial bio-indicator of their health, as their well-being reflects the integrity of the food chain in all its components.
The conservation status of the species covered by the project is still considered to be lacking in data, at least according to the latest Habitats Directive report (2013-2018) and the EEA report (no. 10/2020) which states that “marine mammals (cetaceans) are among the species with the highest percentage of unknow rating (over 78%)”. The lack of data is mainly because cetaceans and marine turtle species spend most of their lives in remote offshore areas more difficult to monitor due to their size, highly dynamic nature and high costs involved in conducting regular large-scale analysis that overcomes the difficulties of political boundaries.
With offshore movements, these animals are exposed to multiple anthropogenic stressors, such as marine traffic and the presence of waste. In particular, boat traffic is responsible for noise pollution and water pollution, but it is also a source of underwater disturbance to marine wildlife. Disturbance from boats can lead to short and long term changes in the behaviours and distribution of CEPTU species and it is directly linked to the risk of collisions. The density and composition of marine traffic changes during the year and the potential impact on cetaceans and turtles vary in time and space, i.e. depending on the spatial-temporal distribution of both species and threats. Plastic pollution is one of the most critical elements for the survival of these species, due to the risk of entanglement, ingestion and toxicological effects. Entanglement in abandoned or in-use fishing gears also contributes to the increased risks associated with the fishing industry’s pressure on pelagic areas.
In the Mediterranean Sea, there are no permanent structures capable of holding waste in the long term, so the risk from marine litter is widespread, with high seasonal variability in both quantity and composition. These characteristics, combined with the highly mobile nature of cetacean and turtle species, lead to high vulnerability almost everywhere, but high varying intensity depending on the area and season. Therefore, to plan an effective mitigation strategy, precise knowledge of the spatial-temporal distribution of both groups of species and the threats they face in offshore areas is required.
The highest majority of these species spend most of their life in vast marine regions that are not specifically protected. However, even if protected areas are among the most effective land management tool for the conservation of vulnerable species and their habitats, alone they cannot guarantee efficient conservation especially for wide-ranging migratory species. To this end, the legislation requires the implementation of “a strict protection regime for the entire natural range of the species, both within and outside Natura2000 sites” (Habitats Directive) by identifying important areas (e.g. corridors) to priorities mitigation actions and conservation measures.
CONCEPTU MARIS will therefore face many challenges in the upcoming years, attempting to bring solutions to numerous shortcomings in the conservation of cetaceans and turtles in the Mediterranean Sea. Great effort will be put into the:
💧 collection of systematic information on the spatial-temporal ecological requirements of target species for mapping important areas as buffer zones and ecological corridors, especially in offshore areas and gap areas such as Southern Tyrrhenian Sea and Sardinia-Sicily channels;
💧 collection of systematic information on key threats for mapping high-risk areas/seasons where the application of conservative measures will be a priority;
💧 definition of an effective standard approach for the long-term monitoring of the conservation status of different species in their range;
💧 promotion of international cooperation, the development and adoption of agreed procedures to support the identification of important areas and for the long-term monitoring of the conservation status of target species.
Triton is responsible for Project’s communication actions, thought the development of web and social media products able to increase the dissemination of correct information on the protection of the species concerned and the involvement of stakeholders, making them aware of the health status of Mediterranean and the threats to its biodiversity. A dedicated documentary is in progress, as well as the organization of several public events in line with the mission of Ocean Literacy, the UNESCO portal for sharing ocean knowledge.
Triton will also take care of all networking activities with other LIFE, Interreg, H2020, FEAMP projects, related to the EC Marine Experts Groups and the Marine Strategy, to share experiences, documents, researchers and more generally the know-how on the issues addressed in the project.
Networking activities with other LIFE and other projects will be carried out throughout the project and it will include the organization of 2 events to share the knowledge and experience gained.
The sharing of the experiences gained in the project on a national and European scale, their progress and the characteristics of the context in which they are carried out allows a useful comparison of the techniques and the achievement of the expected results in the medium and long term. Only through coordinated data collection and effective exchange of information, it will possible to disseminate and promote the best-integrated management practices and support the development of effective policy for the protection of the Mediterranean sea and its inhabitants.