Cyprus underwater ‘bright spots’: could they shine a light on the future of the Mediterranean Sea?
Foto: Juvenile invasive rabbit fish in Cyprus (Author: Demetris Kletou)
Esporles, August 1, 2018. Despite being affected by warming waters and the arrival of hundreds of invasive species from the Red Sea, Cyprus supports extensive seagrass meadows, provides important nesting grounds for turtles and supports some of the last remaining populations of endangered monk seals.
“We are studying how climate change is impacting the marine ecosystems of the Mediterranean”, explains project leader Dr Núria Marbà from CSIC’s Mediterranean Institute of Advanced Studies. “We have come to Cyprus because it hosts remarkably lush seagrass meadows despite having some of the warmest waters in the Mediterranean.”
Understanding the factors that keep Cyprus seagrasses healthy in such warm waters can provide clues as to how other seagrass meadows in the western parts of the Mediterranean can adapt to increasing warming.
The Mediterranean Sea is a climate change hotspot, with its waters warming at a rate that is 2-3 times faster than the global average. This is facilitating the expansion of tropical species originating from the Red Sea, which are now interacting with native Mediterranean species.
“Voracious rabbitfish are invaders that are devastating other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean like Turkey, yet interestingly here they seem to coexist with underwater forests and exuberant seagrass meadows, which are foundation habitats that support hundreds of species”, says co-investigator Dr Julia Santana-Garcon.
“Cyprus reefs and seagrass meadows may be particularly resistant to warming and need to be highly protected from other human pressures like coastal development and industrialisation, pollution and overfishing to maintain their integrity and functionality”, highlights Demetris Kletou director of the Marine and Environmental Research Lab based in Limassol, who is collaborating with the team and hosting the research.
The international team also includes researchers from UNSW Sydney in Australia, where warming waters are also leading to a ‘tropicalisation’ of reefs, as warm-affinity species continue to expand their distribution towards the poles.
This project is funded by the BBVA Foundation, which supports scientific research in conservation ecology and biology. The full team also includes Dr Scott Bennett (IMEDEA, UIB-CSIC), Dr Teresa Alcoverro (CEAB-CSIC) and Dr Adriana Vergés (UNSW Sydney).
Source: IMEDEA (UIB-CSIC)