Acoustic telemetry to study the movement of fish, citizen science, common protocols of work and collaboration with managers and fishermen are some of the essential elements in RESMED, a project to study the ecosystems of the marine littoral of the Pyrenees. The initiative is coordinated by the lecturer Bernat Hereu, from the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Instiute (IRBio) of the University of Barcelona.
RESMED project (2019-2021), cofounded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the INTERREG POCTEFA program, will help to make common action protocols among administrations and countries –with the distinguished participation of local agents– to protect and improve the quality of marine ecosystems and the linked ecosystem services.
RESMED: effective cross-border management
Overfishing, pollution, invasive species, climate change and the impact of human activities are factors that threaten marine biodiversity in the Mediterranean. In order to improve the management of the preservation of habitats and marine species, it is crucial to know about the features of each ecosystem.
The marine coasts of the Pyrenees are a large area that covers a part of the biodiversity of the north-western Mediterranean, with several habitats frequented by emblematic species and ecosystem services with a great economic value (fishing, tourism, leisure, etc.). However, current management arrangements do not consider this marine region as an ecological unit where species move and use different habitats over their life cycle. “The RESMED project (marine reserve network and integrated management of cross-border Mediterranean coastal areas) is a cross-border regional initiative that takes the whole region as a joint ecological unit”, notes Bernat Hereu, lecturer at the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the UB.
Using combined techniques of acoustic telemetry, visual and video censuses, and with the support of citizen science, the project will provide new knowledge about the ecology of several species of heritage and commercial interest, essential habitats throughout their life cycle (feeding, reproduction and breeding), their ability to move (distances, used habitats and periods), and the connectivity of populations between different marine protected areas. RESMED will also evaluate the effectiveness of the area’s marine reserve network and fisheries management to contribute to the development of more sustainable fishing.
The project counts on the participation of the University of Barcelona and the University of Perpignan, in collaboration with the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and the Department of Territory and Sustainability of the Catalan Government, the natural park of cap de Creus, the natural park of Montgrí, illes Medes and baix Ter, the French Agency for Biodiversity, the natural marine park of León, and the marine reserve of Cervera-Banyuls, stated as partners of the project. In addition, the confreries of fishermen of Girona take part in the project too, as well as the Catalan Federation of Underwater Activities (FECDAS), diving clubs –such as the Diving Club of Biology (CIB) of the UB– and the association of diving centers of Costa Brava.
Participatory science to protect marine ecosystems
The RESMED project team installed a fix network with 94 acoustic receptors –or underwater locator beacons– to study the movement of fish in all marine areas they studied. There are a total of 25 devices in the marine reserve of Cervera-Banyuls, 28 in the natural park of cap de Creus, 15 in the bay of Roses, and 26 in the natural park of Montgrí, illes medes and Baix Ter. In addition, there are 116 receptors previously installed in the gulf of León by MARBEC Ifremer unit, in Sète (RESMED project collaborator).
At the same time, artisanal fishermen are also collaborating. They have installed acoustic receptors in their fishing gear to detect the marked fish outside the covered area by the fixed receptor network. The work is completed with the marking of 103 fish of various species (sea bream, European sea bass, black sea bass, red head, dentex, white seabream, bluefish), which allows them to report their movement in the network of acoustic receptors.
“This project wants to give importance to participatory science. Professional or recreational fishermen can intervene as volunteer staff to catch fish that will be released later with the implanted acoustic transmitter”, highlights Bernat Hereu.
“Interaction with fishermen and federations –he continues– has allowed us to open a debate and an exchange of ideas on the problems and potential measures to improve the sustainable use of resources. For example, during this period we are collaborating to determine the breeding areas of the sea bream and sea bass, species that are now undergoing their breeding season”.
Volunteering divers can also join the participatory science in the RESMED project. To do so, there will be a program on specific training sessions to enable them to take part in the creation of censuses and characterization of the populations of species to study.
Protecting marine biodiversity in the Mediterranean
Among other actions, RESMED has completed the censuses of fish in all coasts and determined common protocols for the studies on quantification of abundance of species. Recruitment, reproduction and breeding areas of coastal fish species have also been studied, and more than 140 places along the coast have been identified with presence of juveniles. The project will continue with the evaluation of the current management, the study of the biology and ecology of commercial species and the design of common action protocols and strategic tools to improve integrated management and the uses of the marine environment.
“There is no doubt that more efficient management tools will allow an improvement in the use of resources, as well as in the uses and the several ecosystem services provided by this marine region of the Mediterranean coast”, concludes Bernat Hereu.