Fighting climate change underwater: Italy opens its first “Smart Bay”

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Climatologists have a new tool to help protect the Mediterranean Sea from the impact of climate change: Italy’s first “Smart Bay”.

The Smart Bay of Santa Teresa on the Ligurian coast in northwestern Italy is a laboratory living underwater in a region renowned for tourism and diving.

The location was chosen by researchers from ENEA (Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development) and CNR (Italian National Research Council). It is ideal for monitoring seawater using bryozoa (aquatic invertebrate animals) and other sessile organisms that are anchored to something as “living sensors”.

Of particular concern is the amount of acidity and the oxygen level in the Mediterranean Sea. As the body of water becomes warmer and more acidic, the habitat of many native species would be permanently altered. There are also fears of dramatic changes in weather systems, such as the increased frequency of Mediterranean tornadoes.

Chiara Lombardi is a marine biologist and ENEA researcher who has created an underwater “farm” of bryozoa and marine polychaete worms. These animals use the carbonates of the water to grow their shells. Due to an increase in the acidity levels of the water linked to pollution and high temperatures, Lombardi assesses the slowdown in animal growth.

An underwater probe called “Tinetto” also allows Lombardi to assess the pH and oxygen levels of the water, which are two vital measures of the health of the Mediterranean and its marine population.

“What we are doing is monitoring the carbonate chemistry of the water as well as the physical properties and what we have observed is that climate change is happening in the Mediterranean Sea,” Lombardi told Reuters .

“We are monitoring the pH which is also linked to ocean acidification and the oxygen level which is linked to hypoxia which causes a lot of damage around the Mediterranean ecosystem, including also aquaculture”, a- she declared.

It is hoped that the Smart Bay will work alongside local businesses, particularly involving local fishermen and the tourism industry, to make their work more environmentally friendly in the future.

“The idea is to try to help a local government draw attention to climate change and try to use new strategies for growth in the future that are sustainable that also use the ecosystem and natural capital as a source of change, ”says Lombardi.

“As far as the bay is concerned, the long term plan is to try to convert this bay which revolves around sustainable tourism, diving and natural capital into a carbon neutral bay.”

The Santa Teresa Smart Bay is the first of its kind in Italy. / Reuters

The Santa Teresa Smart Bay is the first of its kind in Italy. / Reuters

However, the bay can also provide useful data for the study of extreme weather events which are becoming more and more frequent in European countries like Italy, Greece, Spain and France.

Franco Reseghetti, ENEA researcher and ocean specialist, says that even though data collection is improving, researchers still don’t have answers as to why things seem to be changing and especially how to stop them.

“By analyzing the phenomenon, we can say that in recent years we have noticed a mass of hot and salty water that slowly came from the Sicilian coast, reached halfway up the coast of Sardinia and in the Canal de Corse, then sank into the Ligurian Sea. And we don’t know why, which shows us how great our ignorance is, unfortunately, “he said.

“The Mediterranean Sea has essentially become a hotspot for what is happening globally in the oceans of the world. This is a little worrying, not only from the point of view of the changes of living species which now find totally different living conditions but also because these conditions lead to extreme and violent atmospheric events … The problem could be that in the long term the Mediterranean could completely change its characteristics. ”

Speaking of the importance of the Mediterranean to surrounding countries amid an increase in natural disasters such as forest fires, Reseghetti warns: “These extreme events should make us think that maybe it really is time. to stop talking and start acting. “

Video editing: Natalia Luz

Source (s): Reuters


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