Towards COast to COast NETworks of marine protected areas (from the shore to the high and deep sea), coupled with sea-based wind energy potential
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are restricted to national boundaries. CoCoNet is building guidelines to shift the protection of our natural capital from a national to a transnational perspective, with the creation of networks of MPAs. Clean energy production is a strategic EU objective. Offshore Wind Farms (OWF) are crucial for the achievement of this goal in Northern Europe, while being absent in Southern European Seas. This gap must be filled with the greatest respect of environmental integrity.
The 39 institutes and SMEs of the CoCoNet consortium are based in 22 States covering the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, a significant part of North Africa and Middle East, and the European Union. In the first part of the project, a significant sample of scientific communities that seldom interact have started working together to form a solid group of motivated scientists. This was achieved after a year of intensive theoretical elaboration of the crucial topics for the project through a series of thematic workshops and summer schools. The Pilot Studies were then successfully carried out as programmed, both in the open sea, with
oceanographic vessels, and along the shores, with smaller vessels. The collected data regards both biotic and abiotic features of the environment, and also socio-economic issues. The patterns and processes of connectivity among different areas are critical for the establishment of networks of MPAs, being measured with a series of descriptors ranging from physical oceanography to propagule dispersal, species distribution and genetic similarities among populations. OWF problems were nested into ecological problems, with attempts of considering how to reconcile the presence of MPA with that of OWF. The main goal of working together is the abatement of the
conceptual compartments hindering the dialogue among disparate disciplines and sub disciplines. The Pilot Projects proved instrumental for this objective. The outreach activities of the project got wide coverage from the media. CoCoNet promoted transnational collaboration through the sharing of infrastructures, data, ideas, and people. The project has strong links with FP7 projects such as VECTORS and PERSEUS, further widening the network of collaborations. With 'The Ocean of Tomorrow' projects the EU is a powerful glue that will have long-lasting effects on the scientific development of the area.
The most stringent objective of this project is to synthesize disparate pieces of knowledge, so as to create a unitary vision of the manifold aspects involved in environmental management and conservation. Workshops and summer schools are promoting dialogue across disciplines, producing state of the art accounts on the various aspects of our research, treasuring the results of previous EU projects. The common fieldwork carried out in the Pilot Projects will test previously elaborated hypotheses, with the use of large oceanographic vessels and of smaller boats for coastal research. The various layers of information are being organized in a single GIS (Geographic Information System) database: the factual platform on which the guidelines for the establishment of networks of MPAs and of OWF will be produced.