Worldwide, the environment is changing rapidly due to activities of the growing human population, with climate change being a major concern. As more and more people settle along the coast, human-induced pressures on coastal waters increase. As a result, we see habitat loss and fragmentation, contributing to a dramatic decline in biodiversity and changes to how ecosystems function worldwide. As a consequence, the wealth we can derive from the ocean (through the Blue Growth policy) is at risk and it is getting increasingly harder to achieve several of the targets defined by the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.
?Blue Forests? is a term used for coastal vegetated habitats found around the globe. Rockweed is a type of blue forest covering the rocky shores, providing many different ecosystem services and forming the basis for several SDG targets, such as raw material for humans (including food, animal feed and fertilizers), food and shelter for a variety of species and regulation of global climate through carbon storage. We know that these ecosystems are under pressure from climate change and human activities, but we still do not fully understand the effects of these pressures.
COASTFRAG is a research project that started in 2021 and will last until the end of 2024. During this period the project will work to improve our knowledge of what is needed to protect blue forests and the services they provide.
In the spring of 2021, we started making the first draft for a data management plan and built the infrastructure for external and internal communication. We created a web site to present our research to a wider audience (www.coastfrag.org) and a Teams platform for communication between the different members of the project. We arranged a kick-off meeting and workshops and established a good connection with the international science and the user advisory boards. An important result was a standardized and agreed-on field protocol for all regions in the project (Norway, Scotland, Estonia and Spain), with the aim to get comparable data and results. The work with publishing a technical report based on this field protocol is ongoing. During the spring and autumn, we produced infographics in both Norwegian, English, Spanish and Estonian (downloadable from the project website), for use in communication and dissemination in the different countries. We have initiated a dialogue with the ?Oslo fjord school? and the ?Curious George Club? to contribute to and participate in activities related to children and your people.
In the autumn of 2021, we started the field work where we examined the effects of habitat fragmentation, temperature, water quality and wave exposure on rockweed communities in all four regions of Europe. Remote sensing images, models on environmental conditions and relevant data from other projects were integrated in GIS maps for use in the selection of field sites and for later use in the predictions into a future of changing climate. The 2021 field work in Norway has ended, but field work is, at the time of this reporting (September 2021), still ongoing in the other countries. The plans for the 2022 field work and for the controlled experiments in the NIVA mesocosm basins are under development.
A newly introduced activity in the project is the use of drones to get images (orthomosaics) of all study areas in order to develop a fragmentation index in a standardized way. This work was conducted with the support of the infrastructure project SeaBee (https://seabee.no), a project funded by the Norwegian Research Council (project 296478).
Worldwide, the environment is undergoing rapid changes due to activities of the growing human population, with climate change being a major concern. As more and more people settle along the coast, human-induced pressures also increase, causing habitat loss and fragmentation. These pressures lead to a dramatic decline in biodiversity and changes to ecosystem functioning worldwide. This in turn limits the potential for Blue Growth and undermines the progress towards several of the assessed targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Blue forests, such as seaweeds, kelp forests, seagrass meadows, salt marshes and mangroves, are coastal vegetated habitats that cover huge areas around the globe, providing many different types of ecosystem services. Littoral seaweeds, covering the rocky shores everywhere, form the basis for many of the SDG targets by providing raw material for humans (including food, animal feed and fertilizers), food and shelter for a variety of species and by regulating global climate through carbon storage and sequestration. These ecosystems are experiencing multiple pressures caused by climate change and human activities, but the effect of this is largely unexplored.
The overall aim of COASTFRAG is to contribute with the knowledge base needed to safeguard the Blue forests’ ecosystem services and ensure a long-term sustainable Blue growth. To do so, we will study how pressures, individually and together, impact seaweed communities across Europe. The research approach includes field investigations in the littoral zone, involving observations and experiments at different spatial scales, mesocosms experiments, numerical/statistical analyses, predictive models and projections for climate change effects. The findings will be communicated to a wider audience, including to support regional and habitat specific management strategies.