MARSW and INFORBIOMARES: two key projects for marine conservation in Portugal
- Two crucial projects for the implementation and management of marine protected areas in Portugal ended this summer: MARSW and INFORBIOMARES.
- Both projects developed work to characterise, monitor and restore the marine ecosystems of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park and the Professor Luiz Saldanha Marine Park, in Arrábida.
- A common goal of both projects, successfully accomplished, was to set up a monitoring and information system to address the needs of conservation assessment and biodiversity management and planning measures in these marine protected areas.
Conservation in action: from Espichel to Burgau!
Marine protected areas are essential tools for ocean management and conservation. Among the benefits they can bring are the conservation of species, habitats and marine ecosystems, the recovery of habitats that have been impacted, and the sustainability of important fisheries resources for local communities. Their potential to keep the ocean healthy is so significant that the European Union and countries around the world have made commitments to implement marine protected areas in at least 10% of the ocean, a figure that may soon rise to 30%.
However, to be effective as conservation tools, marine protected areas require active management that includes monitoring, conservation and environmental awareness. Following the motto "Our ocean, our future", CCMAR, has been promoting projects that support the management of marine areas in Portugal, together with other partners. This summer ended two major projects that ran between 2017 and 2021: MARSW, in the Sudoeste Alentejano and Vicentina Coast Natural Park (PNSACV), and INFORBIOMARES, in the Professor Luiz Saldanha Marine Park on the Arrábida coast.
These two major scientific projects at the national level have shown that the establishment of marine protected areas, with total or partial protection, in which human activities are prohibited or very restricted, are important for the conservation and restoration of marine ecosystems, and bring major environmental benefits when properly planned. From the studies carried out, it was possible to observe an increase in biodiversity, but also an increase in the fish population and in the size of individuals.
The Sudoeste Alentejano and Vicentina Coast Natural Park: the largest protected marine area in mainland Portugal
As the biggest marine protected area on the Portuguese coast, the Sudoeste Alentejano and Vicentina Coast Natural Park didn't have a detailed mapping of this area. Over the past three decades, CCMAR, in partnership with the University of Évora and the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon of MARE, has contributed to the study and protection of the richness of species and marine habitats of this marine protected area.
In the framework of the MARSW project, the researchers developed a set of tools to assess the conservation status of the park over the years. Thus, it was possible to realize that in its 269 km2, live about 1900 different species of marine organisms such as fish, algae, molluscs and crustaceans, including 38 species with conservation status and 17 classified as endemic. The physical and biological mapping carried out using multi beams, side-scanning probes, dredges, beam trawls, divers, drones and underwater robots (ROV) provides a solid basis for further studies in this area. New marine habitats have been described for the European EUNIS classification and for the OSPAR Convention (examples: gorgonian gardens and deep-sea sponge aggregations).
A functional and integrated database was created, which supports information and monitoring systems of the marine biodiversity of marine classified areas, which is interoperable with other national and international systems. The project also led the creation of a list of indicators for monitoring the network of marine protected areas, at the national level.
In terms of monitoring, the results of the project show that the more strictly protected areas of Pessegueiro Island and Cabo Sardão, registered not only an increase in fish diversity by about 30%, but also in their abundance by about 150%, and also an increase in size (up to 20%) of some species of commercial interest, such as forkbeards and sole. More south at Martinhal Islets, through sampling with cameras baited with stereo video, it was found that especially the sea bream, were more abundant and larger within the areas of higher protection.
As a result of these studies, several recommendations of management measures were made, such as, for example, 1) the need to maintain the ban on catching seabream (closed season) applied to commercial and recreational line fishing, and to extend it to other recreational fishing (boat and underwater fishing) and, if possible, also to commercial fishing; 2) the need to evaluate the possibility of extending PMSACV, along the coast of Sines (lowlands with coral gardens), Sagres (São Vicente underwater canyon with coral gardens and sponge aggregations) and the south coast (lowlands with gorgonian and red coral gardens) and to evaluate the possibility of creating new non-fishing areas (Partial Protection I) and/or extending the existing ones in depth, off Vila Nova de Milfontes, Cabo Sardão, Azenha do Mar, Rogil, Arrifana and Carrapateira, not forgetting the protection of mobile substrate habitats and the Baleeira cliffs, in order to further protect the diversity of the largest habitat of the PNSACV, and the habitat of submerged or semi-submerged sea caves, respectively.
The teaching, training and communication component of the MARSW project was very strong. From the teaching and training activities developed, we highlight the production of several master theses, several practical classes taught on the beaches, technical workshops and participation in national and international conferences. In terms of communication, during the MARSW project, several environmental awareness actions were promoted among schools, and several materials were developed addressed to several audiences, including a travelling exhibition, the book "Áreas Protegidas da Costa Sudoeste", and a website with an associated geoportal, making available to all and for the future all the information produced.
The special sea of the Professor Luiz Saldanha Marine Park
Along 38 km of rocky coastline between the beaches of Figueirinha, at the outlet of the Sado estuary, and Praia da Foz, north of Cabo Espichel, the sea waters of the Arrábida-Espichel coast are protected by the Professor Luiz Saldanha Marine Park. Since 2007, CCMAR and ISPA researchers have been promoting the conservation of the Marine Park through the BIOMARES Programme. As part of this programme, the Inforbiomares project has continued several activities that have made it possible to characterize, monitor and restore the biodiversity of the Arrábida coast, allowing a work of continuity that is absolutely essential for an effective management of the Marine Park.
Of the many tasks carried out by the Inforbiomares project, we highlight just a few. The characterization work has made it possible to identify more than one hundred thousand records of about two thousand species observed in the marine park between 1797 and 2021. So much biodiversity in such a small area means a true treasure of our seas and an oasis of marine life. The biodiversity data from the Marine Park and surrounding areas were used to assess the need to change the limits of this protected area, revealing the high value of the area around Cabo Espichel, which came up in the different models developed as a priority area for extending the limits of the park.
Additionally, data collected with bait cameras (BRUVs) showed that the surrounding area of the Marine Park, including the platforms around the Setúbal canyon and the Lisbon canyon, are also important nursery areas for several species, namely blue sharks. The telemetry work has also shown that for some species of rays there is connectivity between habitats in the Marine Park and the Sado estuary, i.e. the animals move between the two areas.
To support the management of the Marine Park, the monitoring work has continued, with the same methodology used since 2006. This work confirmed the tendency to find a higher density and biomass of several species of commercial interest, such as the sea bream, in the areas of higher protection, since the implementation of the park until today, enhancing the scientific support for the maintenance of the conservation measures established in the Marine Park.
The Inforbiomares project also continued the work of biodiversity recovery, carrying out transplants of seagrasses, corals and kelp forests, and monitoring the local natural populations and donors of these species. At the beginning of the project there were already 110 m2 of seagrass in the park that had been previously transplanted, and by the end of the project, in 2020, with the new transplants, the meadow occupied a total of 226 m2.
Finally, we also highlight the special attention given to the communication of the Marine Park, with several activities organized directed to tourists and local communities to promote the special sea of Arrábida and the role of this marine protected area for its conservation. The project also developed several communication products, such as a new permanent exhibition at the Oceanographic Museum of Portinho da Arrábida, entitled "Arrábida: a natural laboratory for the study of the ocean", a citizen science platform, the publication of the book "UM MAR ESPECIAL: Parque Marinho Professor Luiz Saldanha", the creation of a website dedicated to the Marine Park (the first website dedicated to a marine protected area in Portugal), an itinerant photographic exhibition and a toponymic map made with the collaboration of fishermen and local agents.
All the information you need at the click of a mouse
The two projects have jointly developed an information and monitoring system that allows to know the distribution of communities and habitats in these marine protected areas. For Marine Park Professor Luiz Saldanha, the records are publically available in the geocatalog of data and metadata and in the viewer of species occurrence records. For the Parque Marinho do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, records and maps of the distribution of species and marine habitats, and also of the main human activities in the area, such as commercial and recreational fishing, aquaculture, sailing, tourism and boating, are publically available on the project site - geocatalog and websig.
Partners join forces to support marine conservation
These projects confirm the protective effect of Marine Protected Areas and show that they play a key role in the conservation and protection of biodiversity, marine ecosystems and species of commercial interest. The INFORBIOMARES and Mar Sudoeste projects were coordinated by the Liga para a Proteção da Natureza (LPN), in partnership with the Instituto para a Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (ICNF), and implemented by the scientific teams mentioned above. Both projects were co-financed under the Programa Operacional Sustentabilidade e Eficiência no Uso de Recursos (POSEUR), with the INFORBIOMARES project receiving co-financing from SECIL and the MARSW project receiving co-financing through the Environmental Fund and the municipal councils of Aljezur, Vila do Bispo and Odemira.