Yellow gorgonians form a marine animal forest (Photo: Lorenzo Bramanti)

04/07/2022 | From the 7-9 July 2022, ZMT will host scientists from 17 countries to talk about marine animal forests, the largest biome on the Earth planet. Important marine biodiversity hotspots occur within and around extended three-dimensional communities known as Marine Animal Forests (MAFs). MAFs are biological assemblages mainly composed of suspension-feeding animals like sponges, gorgonians, hard corals, bryozoans, bivalves, etc., that form canopies like the trees or shrubs on land, thus creating lush marine forests. To study, preserve and regenerate the MAFs in the world´s oceans, the European Union approved the MAF-World project, which is led by Professor Sergio Rossi from Università del Salento (Lecce, Italy). The event at ZMT is part of the COST network approved in 2020 (CA 20102) and recently highlighted in the journal Science

During the 3 days of the event at ZMT, 28 scientists from Italy, Spain, Germany, Ireland, Malta, Portugal, Brazil, Israel, United Kingdom, Turkey, Norway, Cyprus, Poland, Croatia, Iceland, Greece, and France will discuss the network's goals until 2024 such as summer schools, scientific articles, as well as the possibility of new projects and funding. From ZMT, researchers Professor Marcelo Soares and Dr. Sonia Bejarano, from the Reef Systems working group, are organising the meeting together with the directorate of ZMT. "I am happy for the event at the ZMT in Bremen which is an important and thinking-out-of-the-box place for discussions of new themes and aspects of innovation such as the role of marine animal forests for the blue economy and blue carbon", says Professor Rossi, the head of the COST Action.

As Aichi biodiversity targets have been impossible to achieve by 2020, international networks are needed that allow working together for the same objective, with special attention to marine ecosystems as the MAFs. These underwater forests provide ecosystem services (e.g., carbon sequestration) which are essential for hundreds of million people worldwide. In the UN Ocean Decade, this COST action aims to provide the basis for understanding and preserving the ecosystem services of the MAFs throughout the world. These ecosystem services are under increasing human pressure and need a clear unifying picture to be shared with stakeholders and the public.

Developing a common protocol and gathering a consensus on the most appropriate tools to study and understand the animal forests’ role, will ultimately inform management, restoration and conservation initiatives. The network aims to develop an integrative vision that will fuel research and steer future policies on crosscutting sustainability-driven issues related to the fragmented governance of these benthic ecosystems in coastal and open ocean waters, creating cross-sectoral platform for partners across academia, policymaking and civil society, and offering inclusive spaces for a transdisciplinary dialogue. We will also unify the protocols for restoration of the MAFs of the World, with nature-based solutions, to face climate change, natural disasters, and food supply.

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