The Mediterranean Sea is undergoing severe changes driven by increasing anthropogenic pressures. CEtaceans and Pelagic sea TUrtles (CEPTU hereafter) are among the most important charismatic species in the Mediterranean Sea, and crucial bioindicators of marine health conditions. However, there is a data deficiency for most taxa, which is mainly due to the fact that CEPTU species spend the majority of their life in remote offshore areas that are the most difficult to monitor because of their extent. With their offshore movements, they are exposed to multiple anthropogenic stressors, such as maritime traffic causing pollution, underwater noise, disturbance and marine litter exposing the species to a higher risk of entanglement, ingestion or toxicological effects. Entanglement in fishing-related gears also contributes to increased risks linked to the pressure of fishing in pelagic areas.
The LIFE CONCEPTU MARIS project aims at improving the conservation status of species of cetaceans and pelagic sea turtles (CEPTU), listed in Annex II-IV of the EU Habitats Directive, in the Mediterranean Sea. It will do this by filling the information gap on spatiotemporal ecological needs, to identify important offshore marine sites, and by establishing an internationally-agreed approach to support and further develop the surveillance of CEPTU conservation status and to assess the impact of human activities.
Specifically, the project aims to:
- Identify and map important offshore sites forCEPTU;
- Identify aggregation hotspots of ecological processes;
- Monitor the impact of maritime traffic and marine litter on critical offshore habitats for the identification of risk areas/seasons;
- Contribute to improve knowledge on the potential impact of entanglement on derelict fishing gears on wild animals;
- Identify the coherence of area-based protection measures with the spatiotemporal ecological needs of CEPTU species, on the basis of priority and risk areas;
- Identify the most suitable mechanisms to meet the CEPTU conservation needs, and review the legal framework to fine-tune the feasibility of transboundary conservation initiatives;
- Produce scalable protocols for using ferries as efficient cost-effective platforms for long-term surveillance of CEPTU conservation status in the Mediterranean, as required by the Habitats Directive (Art. 11), and guidelines to identify concrete conservation measures to mitigate the impact of the main pressures;
- Promote the CEPTU flagship role to raise awareness among EU citizens on the shared Mediterranean Sea environment, its common heritage for human culture and natural marine resources values.
The project contributes to the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSDF), and the Habitats Directive.
- Identification of important offshore CEPTU (e.g. buffer zones, stepping stones, ecological corridors) suitable as offshore Natura 2000 sites, and seasonal critical risk areas for species;
- Report on evaluation of coherence and gaps between the current conservation/mitigation strategies and the identified important and risk areas;
- Protocol and guideline on integrated approaches for species long-term surveillance and main threats monitoring (maritime traffic and marine litter) and effective measures identification;
- Acquisition of integrated continuous data on CEPTU, marine litter and maritime traffic in offshore areas along 4 routes in the core project area and 11 replication routes in WMED/ADRION Regions for a total of more than 4 000 km monitored year round;
- Acquisition of previously collected datasets in a specific geodatabase;
- Acquisition of 600 samples for eDNA analysis on all marine vertebrate species and potential alien invasive species on the basis of 36 surveyed tracks per year (1 cruise every other month - 6 per year - for each of 6 routes);
- Anchoring and maintenance of 60 multi-scale plate sensors (2 per ship) to gather the 1-year temporal series of main environmental variables;
- Six ferry companies (Corsica-Sardinia ferries, Grimaldi lines, GNV, Tirrenia, Minoan, Balearia) directly involved in the project and in the definition of mitigation measures for CEPTU;
- Public awareness of CEPTU conservation raised through 18 public events, a documentary, website/social media and promotional items;
- Setting up of a citizen-science approach and initiative in 3 Mediterranean countries;
- Modifying the existing international monitoring network (FLT Net) for the purposes of long-term surveillance of CEPTU, conservation status assessment for Habitats Directive and MSFD, impact of human activities, identification of risk and effective mitigation measures;
- Replication and transfer of approach in 3 EU Mediterranean countries (Italy, France, Spain) and through 16 FLT Net organisations in 5 countries (Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Tunisia) and through other networks;
- Training of at least 180 officials of maritime companies on the risk of collisions and importance of biodiversity monitoring.