SEASentinels: towards the use of sentinel species and ecosystem modeling tools for adaptive and proactive marine conservation

Duration: 2023-2025

Funding: Proyecto de Consolidación Investigadora, Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación; CNS2022-135631

Coordinator: Dr. Fran Ramirez

Role: CSIC coordinator

Project abstract: Despite their paramount importance for the maintenance of life and human wellbeing, oceanic systems are among the most complex, poorly understood and impacted of Earth’s biomes. Identifying present and future key marine areas and species that require specific management and conservation actions is a major societal challenge that can contribute to adapt and mitigate environmental consequences of Global Environmental Change (GEC); and move towards the necessary shift to sustainability. However, this represents a major challenge for marine conservation today because of the lack of holistic approaches based on the combination of reliable spatial-temporal information on the simultaneous distribution of key marine species and main stressors in the complex, remote and vast oceans. Through this project, we aim to fill a gap of knowledge in the southern hemisphere and contribute to the present and future conservation and sustainable use of marine communities and ecosystem services of this valuable ecosystem. We will focus on penguins as ‘sentinel’ species for environmental health monitoring. Penguins are widely distributed through the southern hemisphere, and, because of their charismatic appeal, they may act as “ambassadors” and play a vital role in education to help explain environmental issues to the public. Penguins are facing severe threats and deserve conservation priority, but may also act as “umbrella/flagship” species and promote the conservation of key marine ecosystems while supporting living resources and, therefore, essential economic, nutritional, recreational and health needs of societies. We will combine the most comprehensive dataset on penguin biology and ecology (e.g. diets, dynamics, and distributions) with the most novel and finer spatially explicit assessments for climate impacts and human stressors within cutting-edge, spatial-temporal marine ecosystem modelling tools. We will hindcast and forecasts penguin responses to different scenarios of climate change and human driven pressures, contributing to the scientific capability to project what the future marine ecosystems in the southern hemisphere may look like and how different scenarios may play out. The project will develop, therefore, the necessary framework and scientific knowledge to provide managers, citizens and stakeholders with key information to set effective management and conservation actions that help preserve the highly valuable marine ecosystems and the associated ecosystem services of the Southern Ocean.