Italy's 'Smart Bay' seeks to tackle Mediterranean climate change

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  • Santa Theresa Bay Italy's first underwater 'living' lab
  • Bay provides data to study extreme weather events
  • Marine biologists worried Mediterranean heating up

LERICI, Italy, Sept 27 (Reuters) - On Italy's Ligurian coast, biologists and environmentalists are working to tackle the effects of climate change in the Mediterranean with help from a so-called "Smart Bay".

Marine biologists fear the Mediterranean is becoming hotter and more acidic, which would affect the habitat of many native species and also lead to violent changes in weather systems such as more frequent tornadoes.

The Santa Teresa Smart Bay, in an area on the northwestern coast noted for tourism and diving, is Italy's first underwater "living" laboratory where scientists use aquatic invertebrate animals known as bryozoans and other organisms as live sensors.

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Researchers from the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) and the National Research Council (CNR) chose the small bay as a perfect location to monitor the seawater.

It provides data for the study of extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent in countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain, and France.

"The Mediterranean Sea has basically become a hot spot of what is happening globally in the world's oceans," said ENEA researcher and ocean expert Franco Reseghetti, who has been monitoring temperature changes in the Mediterranean for years.

His research provides models intended to predict extreme weather phenomena on the coasts - such as the "Medicane" or Mediterranean tornado - and on land caused by the effects of sea warming on the lower layers of the atmosphere.


Reseghetti said while data gathering is getting better, researchers still do not know why things appear to be changing or how to stop it.

"We must bear in mind how important the sea is for Italy, but not only for Italy, just think of France, Greece, and Spain, which this year have paid a very high price in terms of alternating fires and very heavy rainfall," he told Reuters TV.

"These extreme events should make us think that perhaps it really is time to stop talking and start acting."

His comments come ahead of the November COP26 climate change talks in Scotland, where countries will attempt to agree targets to tackle global warming.

The researchers are particularly interested in the PH of the Mediterranean, the levels of acidity and oxygen in the water that are vital for the health of the sea and its marine population.

"We are monitoring PH, which is also related to ocean acidification, and the oxygen level, which is related to hypoxia which is causing a lot of damage around the Mediterranean ecosystem including also the aquaculture," said marine biologist and ENEA researcher Chiara Lombardi.

The 'farm' of bryozoans living in sedentary colonies and marine polychaete worms use the carbonates in the water to grow their shells. Due to a rise of the acidity in the water - linked to pollution and high temperatures - scientists can assess how the growth of the animals has slowed.

The Mediterranean represents 0.7% of the global ocean surface and is a semi-enclosed basin with its only connection to the Atlantic via the Strait of Gibraltar, which gives its waters unique characteristics. There is very little swell and only a small amount of nutrients due to the low flow of rivers that reach it. There has also been a lot of over-fishing and pollution.

Lombardi also hopes to develop the Smart Bay to work with local fishermen and the tourist industry to make their work more eco-friendly.

"The long-term plan is to try to convert this bay, which is again around sustainable tourism, diving and natural capital, (to) a carbon-neutrality bay," she said.

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Additional reporting by Eleanor Biles; Writing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise; Editing by Giles Elgood

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