Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Western Mediterranean

Ecology

The Western Mediterranean sea covers an area of approximately 0.9 million km2 in subtemperate to temperate latitudes (36° to 46° N, approximately). It is connected to the North Atlantic Sea through the 14 km-wide straits of Gibraltar and is characterised by narrow continental shelves, where biological productivity and consequently fisheries are concentrated. Temperatures are relatively high, with high salinity and oxygen levels but, in comparison to the adjacent North Atlantic, it is considered to be low in nutrients and plant life and rich in oxygen. Biological productivity is generally low with zones of high primary production restricted to areas of high fresh water runoff near rivers or in coastal lagoons where there exists a risk of eutrophication (for further information see Land-based pollution).

The Western Mediterranean has a high biological diversity, with 87% of all Mediterranean species occurring in the western basin, including charismatic species such as dolphins, turtles and seabirds. Various conservation and regulatory instruments exist to safeguard these ecologically important species and marine habitats, but nature conservation is often subordinate to the competing demands of the region’s 150 million residents and 200 million annual tourists.

Drivers

The Western Mediterranean coastal zone is increasingly under threat from climate and non-climate stressors, such as human uses. The most important key drivers, which are having impacts on coastal systems in the Western Mediterranean, were identified during VECTORS as: tourism, fisheries, maritime transport, energy, and extraction and disposal activities. The first three were examined using a variety of observational techniques as well as state of the art knowledge and modelling approaches.

Tourism accounts for 68% of the total economic value of the Western Mediterranean coastal systems and 20-30% of the world’s tourists visit the area. Tourism provides economic benefits to local (and national) economies but tourism-related activities impose a high demand on the goods and services provided by coastal systems (energy, clean water, space, etc.). Touristic development combined with increasing coastal populations have led to degradation and habitat loss in areas such as lagoons, deltas, estuaries and seagrass meadows.

The increasing exploitation of living marine resources by fisheries in recent decades has led to 80% of fish stocks being exploited beyond safety limits. This has impacts beyond the populations of target species and has led to changes in marine food webs, has likely increased jellyfish numbers and bloom frequency, and has reduced marine biodiversity. In particular, bottom trawling negatively affects the structure and function of seabed communities. These impacts may be exacerbated by climate change, and may facilitate the spread of invasive species.

Approach

Different types of research methodologies were applied to increase scientific understanding of the dynamics of human impacts and how they relate to, and are affected by, socio-economic pressures.

The work that has been done in the Western Mediterranean has focused on gaining a mechanistic understanding of how pressures, specifically relevant in the Western Mediterranean, cause changes in ecosystem functioning, biodiversity, ecosystem goods and services and economic activities.

VECTORS research focus:

  1. Identify pressures and impacts specific to the Mediterranean through understanding of the past, current and future scales and trends in vectors, drivers and policies 
  2. Gain an understanding of how pressures cause changes on selected topics
  3. Understand the implications of change in ecosystem functioning, biodiversity, ecosystem goods and services and economic activities in the Western Mediterranean
  4. Integrate information and data across sectors into a system approach modelling framework for selected topics in the Western Mediterranean region 
  5. Project future changes in the Western Mediterranean environment, as well as the social and economic consequences of these change

Lead Author

Dolors Blasco, Francesc Maynou and Paolo Domenici

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The content of this website may be subject to copyright, if you wish to use any of the information or figures please contact the attributed author(s).
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

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