In order to combat the erosion of the seabed due to water acidification, British and Italian scientists have developed and implanted small plastic algae in the Mediterranean Sea.
Climate change, as a result of rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), has two major effects on seas and oceans: global warming and ocean acidification. The combination of these threats affects all marine life, both individual organisms and communities of species.
It was with the aim of protecting these vulnerable ecosystems that researchers, at Portsmouth University and the Italian ENEA agency, undertook to implant a reef comprising small plastic structures that mimic natural coral algae (branched and calcified red algae, resembling coral), whose ecological function is similar to that of coral. "They are particularly important ecologically-speaking in shallow and temperate regions,” explained researcher Frederica Ragazzola. They are the engineers of the ecosystem, providing habitats for innumerable small invertebrates and shelter providing protection from physical stresses such as the action of waves". However, their calcareous skeleton renders them particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. Their survival, and the survival of the species associated with them, are threatened.
In total, 90 small plastic corals, measuring 10 centimetres in diameter, were installed near the coral reefs at the Gulf of La Spezia, in the north-west of Italy last June. The aim: ascertaining, over a period of 12 months, whether they are as able as their natural brethren to provide shelter and protection for the species that live in the coral and which are threatened by ocean acidification.
The scientists' long-term goal involves ascertaining whether the organisms are able to survive in an artificial reef should the coral reefs some day disappear.