MarBEF World conference
MarBEF organized the first World Conference on Marine Biodiversity where all of MarBEF scientists presented their latest research results in a five-day meeting that clearly demonstrated the enormous progress in the field of marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning over the last few years and the contribution that MarBEF has made in this field. Nearly 600 scientists from 42 countries were present at the world conference, giving giving 200 oral presentations and nearly as many posters. The participants also discussed and agreed upon a Valencia Declaration for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity.
Scientists at the conference reviewed the current extent of understanding of marine biodiversity and its role in marine ecosystem functioning. They assessed the current and future threats and the potential strategies for conservation and regulation of marine resource and defined the future research priorities.
Some of the research highlights of the Conference
A rapid, climate change-induced northern migration of invasive marine species was one of many research results announced during the opening day of presentations. Investigators reported that invasive species of seaweed were spreading at a rate of 50km per decade, a distance far greater than that covered by invasive terrestrial plants, and that this difference may be due to the rapid dispersion of seaweed propagules (e.g., seeds) in the ocean.
Rapid advances have been made in deep sea research capability, thanks to technical developments such as customised submarines, remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and autonomous vehicles (AUV). These have enabled study of hydrothermal vents or submarine volcanoes first discovered in 1977. Researchers have described more than 500 hydrothermic vent species, most of them endemic, as well as 200 cold-water seep species and 400 morphological species of chemosynthethic ecosystems which form on the carcasses of whales. For instance, on the mud volcanoes in the Cadiz gulf, thirteen new species of polychaetes (marine worms) are described including a new genus, Bobmarleyana, which owing to its characteristic appearance was named after Bob Marley. These submarine volcanoes sustain high densities of fauna which, with specific adaptations, live independently of solar energy.
During the conference, the results of collaboration between more than 160 expert taxonomists on the identification and description of marine species was presented. Their goal: to complete a database before 2010 which describes all known marine life – a world registry of marine species, or WoRMS.
Researchers reported on how they are examining the genetic composition of new species of bacteria in order to identify potential genes that may be useful to the pharmaceutical industry, medicine, the production of biofuels, bioremediation, etc. There are an estimated 100 to 1,000 million species of bacteria, with only 6,000 of them having been described. Thanks to the availability of new, cheaper techniques, researchers have now begun to explore the largely undiscovered world of microbial diversity. What’s more, a greater understanding of this diversity of bacteria, hidden until now, will help us to improve our understanding of the evolution of life.
Economic value of biodiversity
A price-tag on the benefits derived from the protection of coastal ecosystems was presented. It was calculated that effective protection of 20-30% of coastal ecosystems costs between 5 and 19 billion dollars per year, but can generate benefits in terms of improving the associated fish stocks, exceeding the costs. As the actual expenses to maintain the currently unsustainable fishing industry are between 15 and 30 billion dollars per year, it was estimated that the creation of the network of Marine Protected Areas would be a more efficient way to boost the fishing industry than the direct financial assistance it now receive.