The CIB Sentinel Observatory follows the evolution of underwater deserts on the Costa Brava.
Hidden deserts are an emerging problem in our marine ecosystems. Citizen science is one of the mechanisms to involve different groups in monitoring this problem.
Many marine ecosystems are sustained by algae forests that, like the terrestrial ones, generate environments where a large number of species find a safe place to live, take refuge and reproduce. When the marine vegetation cover disappears, these ecosystems become impoverished, leaving bare rock surfaces with little biodiversity. These are the underwater deserts, an emerging problem in our marine ecosystems.
Underwater deserts can arise for different reasons. Among them, the overfishing of predatory species, such as bream, causing an increase in the abundance of herbivorous species such as hedgehogs that, in the absence of their natural predators, proliferate and deplete the algae forests, leaving the bare rock in sight. The impact of heat waves on the sea and the arrival of invasive species such as rabbit fish are other causes that favor the appearance of underwater deserts.
Faced with this growing problem in the Mediterranean, researcher Jordi Boada started the project Hidden Deserts at Sea Watchers, with the objective that citizen science joins efforts in the identification of underwater deserts and the conservation of marine vegetation, essential for the balance of ecosystems. "To find solutions, the first thing is to locate and adequately monitor underwater deserts" explains the researcher. The project has its own website in English, Hidden Deserts , where it will soon be launched a microfinance campaign.
Added to this challenge is the Sentinel Observatory Club d'Immersió Biologia (CIB) , that the identification and monitoring of an emerging desert on the Costa Brava is proposed. After a theoretical and practical training, last spring they carried out a prospecting of a possible desert in the cove of Aiguafreda (Begur), guided by Jordi Boada. Firstly, a drone was used to determine the extent of the desert, and the most suitable area was chosen for divers to carry out the transects, evaluating the percentage of algal coverage and the number of urchins. This season, they plan a similar survey in an underwater desert that may be emerging off the coast of Palamós. After analyzing both areas, they will decide together with the researcher which is the most suitable to carry out a bi-annual monitoring (in spring and autumn) of their evolution. Locating and determining the extent of deserts and following its evolution over time is key in the investigation of the problem and the search for solutions.
The CIB is the scuba diving club of the Faculty of Biology at the University of Barcelona. Its main objective is to promote diving that is respectful of the environment, through training and outreach actions. As Sentinel Observatory, they have carried out censuses of affectation and mortality of gorgonians in collaboration with the project Warning Corals a >. Now, in addition to monitoring submarine deserts, plans are being made to carry out censuses of the indicator fish for climate change indicated by the project Mediterranean Fish . The CIB develops these actions with the club members, who organize and train to collaborate with marine citizen science projects.