Lerici, Italy: On Italy’s Ligurian coast, biologists and environmentalists are working with the help of a so-called “Smart Bay” to combat the effects of climate change in the Mediterranean.
Marine biologists fear that the Mediterranean will become hotter and more acidic, which would affect the habitats of many native species and also lead to violent changes in weather systems such as more frequent tornadoes.
Santa Teresa Smart Bay, in an area on the northwest coast known for tourism and diving, is Italy’s first “living” underwater laboratory, where scientists use aquatic invertebrates known as bryozoa and other organisms as living sensors.
Researchers from the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) and the National Research Council (CNR) chose the small bay as the perfect place to monitor seawater.
It provides data for studying extreme weather events that are becoming more common in countries like Italy, Greece, Spain and France.
“The Mediterranean has basically become a hot spot for what is happening in the world’s oceans,” says ENEA researcher and ocean expert Franco Reseghetti, who has been observing temperature changes in the Mediterranean for years.
His research provides models that are intended to predict extreme weather phenomena on the coasts – such as the “Medicane” or Mediterranean tornado – and on land due to the effects of ocean warming on the lower layers of the atmosphere.
time to act
Reseghetti said while data collection keeps getting better, researchers still don’t know why things seem to be changing or how to stop them.
“We have to consider how important the sea is for Italy, but not only for Italy, just think of France, Greece and Spain, which this year paid a very high price with alternating fires and very heavy rains.” he told Reuters TV.
“These extreme events should make us think that maybe it is really time to stop talking and start acting.”
His comments come ahead of the November COP26 climate negotiations in Scotland, where countries will seek to agree targets to tackle global warming.
The researchers are particularly interested in the pH of the Mediterranean, the acidity and oxygen content of the water, which are vital for the health of the sea and its marine life.
“We monitor pH, which is also related to ocean acidification, and oxygen levels, which are related to hypoxia, which is wreaking havoc on the Mediterranean ecosystem, including aquaculture,” said marine biologist and ENEA researcher Chiara Lombardi.
The “farm” of bryozoans, who live in sedentary colonies, and marine polychaete worms use the carbonates in the water to grow their shells. Due to an increase in acidity in the water – combined with pollution and high temperatures – scientists can assess how the animals’ growth has slowed.
The Mediterranean makes up 0.7% of the global ocean surface and is a semi-closed basin with its only connection to the Atlantic via the Strait of Gibraltar, which gives its waters unique properties. There is very little swell and only a small amount of nutrients due to the low current of the rivers that reach it. There was also a lot of overfishing and pollution.
Lombardi also hopes to develop the Smart Bay to work with local fishermen and the tourism industry to make their jobs greener.
“The long-term plan is to convert this bay, which is again geared towards sustainable tourism, diving and natural capital, to a climate-neutral bay,” she said.