Project Coordinator Murray Roberts explains some of the threats facing Atlantic ecosystems in an era of unprecedented global change and the opportunities iAtlantic will create to enhance their long-term conservation
iAtlantic project coordinator Professor Murray Roberts has recently shared his views on the health of the Atlantic, the multiple threats facing our deep- and open-ocean ecosystems, and how technological innovation and international scientific collaboration are key in helping us understand how best to protect and sustainably manage them.
Speaking to the EU’s Horizon magazine, Prof. Roberts explains that a healthy Atlantic Ocean is critical for maintaining critical functions like climate regulation and food supply, but increasing pressure from human activity and exploitation, combined with the impacts of climate change, is putting the ocean under immense strain. It is vital that society has information to help understand which parts of the Atlantic are most at risk from irreversible change so that informed decisions can be made about how to manage or mitigate that change.
“The new iAtlantic project will focus on understanding the pressures on Atlantic ecosystems and creating a risk-based approach to managing rapidly-expanding human activities in the ocean. It’s all about understanding ecosystem status and maintaining function,” explains Prof. Roberts. “One would argue that where you see ecosystems showing signs of tipping from one state into another, in areas of the Atlantic experiencing very rapid climatic and perhaps human-induced changes, those are the areas that we’ll need to manage the most carefully. The onus has typically always been on those that want to see protection to come up with a reason to protect. The onus is very rarely on those that wish to exploit an ecosystem to prove that their exploitation is sustainable. We need to flip that around.”
iAtlantic is ambitious in its scale and aspirations, seeking to assess the status and health of ecosystems across the entire Atlantic basin. Key to the project’s success will be the collaboration between the research communities of the north and south Atlantic. Prof. Roberts explains “The key aspect for me is how we can support each other and share capacities from north to south and east to west. As well as sharing technical expertise and infrastructure during the project’s many expeditions, we are re-learning lost skills from experts in the south Atlantic. For example, our colleagues in South America have maintained and enhanced their expertise in taxonomy, the ability to recognise and classify marine life. Sadly, in Europe and in North America, many of our taxonomists have retired and we haven’t invested enough in young taxonomists.”
New technology and techniques play a vital role in iAtlantic’s work, enabling new information to be collected at unprecedented scales and resolutions. Remote controlled and autonomous technology, combined with automated machine learning techniques, innovative modelling approaches and new genomic analyses will open a new window to understanding marine ecosystem biodiversity and function. Prof. Roberts’ enthusiasm for the innovative nature of iAtlantic’s work is clear: “This technology allows us not only to map and photograph the sea floor robotically, but also to create an archive of the biology that’s in the water. To me, this is like science fiction becoming reality before our eyes.’
To read the full interview, please visit https://horizon-magazine.eu/article/qa-protect-atlantic-we-first-need-understand-it.html