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RESEARCH SITE 1

The Tuscan Archipelago

Tuscan Archipelago

About the Site

The Tuscan Archipelago is one of the largest marine parks in Europe and has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in recognition of its unique environments and the large diversity of marine and terrestrial life that it supports. The archipelago spans 600 km2 of sea between the Ligurian and the Tyrrhenian Seas. The seven islands that comprise the Tuscan Archipelago are managed differently with respect to human activities, with restrictions ranging from fully protected islands with limited human access and no extractive activities, to islands that alternate marine protected areas (such as Capraia island) with open areas where human access and recreational activities are allowed, to fully open islands.

Environment

Seagrass meadows are one of the most productive and widespread marine coastal ecosystems in the Tuscan Archipelago. They provide essential ecosystem services such as supporting habitat and nursery areas for important commercial species and regulating services such as coastal protection “blue” carbon storage. Seagrasses are particularly vulnerable to degraded environmental conditions and can collapse into an alternative state of algal turfs (low-lying, small-form algae), with cascading impacts on productivity, de-oxygenation and ecosystem services.

Economy and Environmental Pressures

With more than 2 million visitors in each year, tourism provides the most important economic asset for the Tuscan Archipelago, but it also causes measurable ecological impacts. Tourism drives important environmental changes, exerting pressure on vulnerable marine ecosystems through nutrient discharge, disturbance (e.g. anchoring) and pollution in general. Tourism pressure will likely increase in the coming years owing to global warming, with the holiday season encompassing a broader temporal range compared to the past. 

 

Other important economic activities include agriculture, fishing and aquaculture. On Capraia, the Tuscan archipelago’s economy is mostly based on artisanal fishing and limited, but high-quality agricultural production (grains, spirits and wine products) due to its rocky and steep nature. The island also hosts an innovative aquaculture farm that supplies 250 tons of fresh sea bream and sea bass per year, which are widely distributed across several markets on the mainland.

Research Focus

We're examining the effectiveness of alternative management options through Marine Protected Areas (fully vs. partially protected islands) for the conservation and protection of seagrasses and the ecosystem services they provide, including “blue” carbon storage. Our work will consider the requirements to adapt to climate change and the challenges of implementing Marine Protected Areas in a complex governance landscape. This work will build and add value to previous projects (e.g. ODEMM, PERSEUS, COCONET, MEDSEA) that have addressed seagrass in the context of marine protection in the region.

Concrete Actions

We will restore seagrass beds by finding alternative mooring solutions. The recovery of seagrass beds from physical disturbance will be assessed by replicated diving surveys to assess recovery rate in terms of biodiversity, protection from invasive species and carbon sequestration. Measures to promote more sustainable mooring and boat use across private users and commercial charter companies will be developed.

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