With the end of iAtlantic now peeking over on the horizon, activities to disseminate our results to stakeholders are moving up a gear. On 2 March 2023, iAtlantic coordinator Murray Roberts presented highlights from the project’s research portfolio to assembled guests and online audience at an event at the European Parliament. Titled “Science advances at the ocean-climate-biodiversity nexus: Highlights from the Atlantic”, this event was hosted by MEP Isabel Carvalhais and convened under the European Parliamentary Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development.
In her opening remarks, MEP Ms Carvalhais emphasised the critical role of science in addressing climate change, and stressed that society can no longer afford to ignore or dismiss science that it finds inconvenient. She observed that ambitious science programmes such as iAtlantic are fundamental to deliver detailed, transparent and accessible knowledge on the critical drivers of impacts on ocean resources, and such scientific advice is crucial for development of policies that can support more sustainable management of human activities.
Murray’s presentation to the event showcased some of the key results emerging from almost 4 years of iAtlantic research, including advances in our understanding of ocean circulation as a driver of deep-sea ecosystem connectivity, the use of predictive mapping to determine distribution of seafloor species and habitats, tropicalisation of fish stocks in the SW Atlantic, increases in Bermudan humpback whale populations, and impacts on cold-water corals from deep-sea mining.
These highlights provided the focus for a panel discussion, featuring interventions from Szilvia Nemeth, Deputy Head of “Healthy Ocean and Seas” at the European Commission, and two of the All-Atlantic sister projects with whom iAtlantic has worked closely: TRIATLAS, represented by coordinator Noel Keenlyside, and AtlantECO, represented by coordinator Daniele Iudicone. Also joining the panel were three experts from stakeholder organisations: Monika Verbeek (Seas at Risk), Aurelie Spadone (Ocean Team, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN) and Paul Thomas (European Association of Fish Producer Organisations).
Discussions between the panellists – and, later on, with the broader audience – highlighted the importance of collaborative research to provide the science needed to tackle the big issues facing today’s ocean. This was particularly emphasised by Noel and Daniele, whose interventions demonstrated the complementarity of the current All-Atlantic projects funded under the EU Horizon2020 programme, and the need for long-term continuity of funding to enable the science to properly evolve. Ms Nemeth noted the importance of the underpinning political statements – the Galway and Belem Statements, as well as the more recent All-Atlantic Research and Innovation Alliance declaration and the new EU Horizon Europe Mission on “Restore our Ocean and Waters” – in providing a framework for international scientific collaboration across the whole Atlantic basin. Ms Nemeth explained that the European Commission has learned the many benefits of taking a programmatic approach to scientific research over the years, and recognised the importance of funding continuity in maintaining and nurturing a strong research community.
The importance of undertaking scientific research at basin scale was also emphasised by Aurelie Spadone, who reflected on the importance of large-scale research in tackling big research questions – for example, understanding ocean connectivity at a range of scales and measuring ocean physics at the scale of the whole Atlantic so as to better understand its role in climate change. She also noted the benefits of large ocean research programmes in connecting people and systems, and their crucial contributions to advancing international collaboration and cooperation. In particular, she noted the importance of timely transfer of scientific knowledge to policy, and noted the projects’ particular relevance to the new UN treaty on high seas biodiversity, the draft of which was finalised in New York two days ago (5 March 2023).
iAtlantic results on the potential impacts of deep-sea mining on cold-water corals, and impacts of climate change on fisheries drew the attention of Monika Verbeek, who emphasised the need for scientific advice to be given a more prominent role in the management of ocean resources, and the need to incorporate both climate and ecosystems considerations into ocean management. She also highlighted the need to change the way we produce and consume, and the urgency to move towards a more low carbon, circular economy to reduce demand for mineral resources, such as those that might be sourced from the deep sea.
Paul Thomas noted that the climate impacts on deep-sea fish are also being observed in coastal systems: increasing average sea temperature is impacting fish reproduction, recruitment and growth, as well as stock levels and geographic distribution. Ocean acidification is affecting the early life stages of fin fish, and land-based climate impacts such as droughts are resulting in less nutrient transfer to the ocean through reduced river run-off, causing reduced recruitment of fish into stocks. A key challenge in the future is adapting fisheries management to accommodate the shift of fish stocks to higher latitudes as a consequence of climate change.
Ms Carvalhais wrapped up the session be emphasising the need for continuity in funding for ocean science, providing more security and long-term opportunities for young researchers, and the importance of communicating science results to the wider public. In her closing remarks, she noted that society continues to rely too much on the capacity of nature to bear humankind’s mistakes, and this approach places unrealistic demands on science to provide solutions in place of changing our way of life. Science must inform change.
iAtlantic would like to extend its thanks to Ms Carvalhais for hosting this event, as well as to the expert panellists for their contributions to the discussions. Thanks also to our partners at EBCD for their support in organising the event.