The spread of species and the settlement in the new habitats began with the development of the first living organisms on Earth, but thanks to human activity, the transfer of species to areas where they did not exist before and where they could not reach naturally has accelerated. Introduced species can significantly change and disrupt ecological relations in indigenous biocenoses, and can have negative consequences for the economy and human health. Climate change further increases the negative effects as it often favors easier and faster establishment of populations and the spread of introduced species.
The majority of today’s cargo traffic takes place by sea, and ships, in addition to cargo, transport various marine organisms found in ballast water. When they reach new habitats, the introduced species can be maintained or become invasive and completely suppress native communities. The invasiveness of introduced species is more likely in degraded habitats as well as in closed seas such as the Adriatic sea. The Mediterranean Sea is particularly endangered due to wide temperature ranges, degraded habitats, dense maritime traffic from the very beginning of navigation, numerous aquaculture farms and densely populated and built shores.
As part of the ProtectAS project, five partner institutions will conduct interdisciplinary research in the busiest Croatian cargo ports, Ploče and Rijeka. In addition to determining abiotic factors, the composition of planktonic communities and the presence of viruses and pathogens, modeling of sea currents in ports will be performed based on field measurements, in order to determine the dynamics of species spread in ports. The obtained data will be used to develop a plan of measures to combat and reduce the potential harmful effects of the introduction of alien and harmful species by ship’s ballast water on biodiversity and marine ecosystems, bathing water and human health.
1. Development of a control and defense system for Croatian ports against the introduction of alien species
Based on the results of the research, the Protocol for monitoring of biological factors in ports will be drafted. The documents will contain a description of specific procedures with the necessary preconditions for their implementation, such as appropriate infrastructure, research equipment, human resources, etc. Implementation of the proposed monitoring and measures would enable timely detection of alien and other potentially harmful species, as well as control of their spread and reduction of invasiveness.
2. Measurement of abiotic factors and modeling of marine currents
For the needs of calibration of numerical models, the measurement of sea current speed and tidal oscillations will be performed using ADCP devices in the port of Ploče and in the port of Rijeka. Based on oceanographic and wind speed measurements, numerical models will be calibrated separately for both ports, and calibrated models will be used to investigate the movement of marine masses within ports in order to detect situations that are most unfavorable for the spread of alien species discharged into the port through ballast water. Specific oceanographic and climatic conditions that are most unfavorable for the spread of introduced species from ports to the high seas will be determined.
3. Research of the composition of the planktonic community
Determining the quantitative and qualitative composition of the planktonic community in the port of Ploče and the port of Rijeka collected by seasonal frequency during a one-year period will enable updating of the existing database and continuous monitoring of the impact of climate change on their composition and abundance in this area. Particular attention will be paid to the identification of alien and invasive alien species and other harmful plankton species. Using the developed models of sea mass movement, the dynamics of species spread in the investigated areas will be investigated, especially within the port itself, but also between the port, as a potential source of foreign and harmful species, and the outer coastal zone. In the coastal area, the potential spread of the species to the beaches (water for recreation) and towards the open zone of the Adriatic will be analyzed, from where they can spread throughout the Adriatic through general circulation.
4. Investigation of the influence of abiotic factors on pathogens
The composition and quantities of certain pathogens in the ports of Ploče and Rijeka will be investigated, with the seasonal frequency of monitoring during a one – year period. Microbiological examination will include the following indicators: UBB, coliform bacteria, Escherichia coli, enterococci, Vibrio cholerae O1 and O139, Pseudomonas aeruginos, Staphylococcus aeureus, Clostridium perfringens, Salmonella, Shigella, Legionella. Simultaneous measurement of abiotic factors and data on atmospheric factors will enable the analysis of their influence on the growth and development of pathogens in the studied areas.
5. Project management
The implementation of the project with regular communication of partners through various media and reporting on the progress of project activities will be coordinated by the applicant, the University of Dubrovnik. All partners will participate in 4 joint meetings that will be organized at different partner institutions.
6. Promotion and visibility
During the implementation of the project, events, workshops and info days will be organized that will contribute to raising the awareness of the general public about the importance of the research topic and the adoption of the necessary adaptation measures. In addition to the general public, the project will provide targeted information to groups that are more focused on the sea and the coast, and the implementation of the project will involve target stakeholders in the field of environmental protection, maritime affairs, shipping and health. In addition to the general and targeted public, the project results will be presented to the scientific community through participation in scientific and professional conferences and the publication of results in scientific journals.
Aims and results
The aim of the project is to collect data for the effective protection of port areas from the introduction of foreign and harmful species by ship’s ballast water. Research in two ports (Ploče and Rijeka) will enable:
- Representation of sea circulation in the ports of Ploče and Rijeka based on a numerical model;
- List of identified species of pathogens, phytoplankton and zooplankton in the ports of Ploče and Rijeka with categorization of harmful species (toxic / foreign / invasive foreign species);
- A review of the dynamics of the spread of planktonic species within the ports of Ploče and Rijeka, and towards the open waters of the Adriatic;
- Influence of abiotic factors and meteorological conditions on pathogens in the ports of Ploče and Rijeka;
The main result of the ProtectAS project is the development of the document “System of control and defense of ports from the introduction of alien species” which consists of three parts, 1. Protocol for monitoring biotic factors in ports, 2. Plan of measures for rapid response to detection of alien species in ports, and 3. Plan a measure to control and eliminate observed alien species in ports.
As the project coordinator, the University of Dubrovnik signed a grant agreement with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Energy and the Fund for Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency for the ProtectAS project with a total value of HRK 3,203,602.53. Funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) under the terms of the Call is 85%, while the remaining 15% of the national component is provided through funding from the Fund for Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency.
The project will be implemented in the period from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2023.