The EU-funded AtlantECO project aims to develop and apply a novel, unifying framework that provides knowledge-based resources for a better understanding and management of the Atlantic Ocean and its ecosystem services.
AtlantECO will engage with citizens and actors from the industry and policy sectors in order to stimulate responsible behaviour and Blue Growth.
The project focuses on three pillars of research: microbiomes, plastic and the plastisphere, and seascape connectivity.
In pursuit of this goal, AtlantECO is bringing together experts and pioneers from Europe, South America and South Africa with the relevant resources, knowledge and experience.
For more information, you can view the public version of the AtlantECO proposal on Zenodo.
In humans, the functioning of the microbiome defines our well-being, and its composition can be diagnostic of our health or diseases. While the human microbiome is composed principally of bacteria, the ocean microbiome consists of a much broader ensemble of microscopic organisms with sizes spanning from viruses of a few tens of nanometres to animals of several centimetres. AtlantECO will collect, harmonise and map new and existing data about the microbiomes that inhabit rivers, coastal waters, the open ocean, marine sediments and the atmosphere. We will develop diagnostic tools and metrics to assess the health status of the Atlantic Ocean.
Plastics and the plastisphere
One of today’s most pressing environmental challenges is the growing amount of plastic in our oceans. It is so large that plastic is regarded as a marker of the Anthropocene, e.g. an estimated 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of land-based plastic debris entered the ocean in the year 2010 alone. Most of this plastic quickly fragments into micro- and nano-plastics. On the other hand, less than 250,000 tons of plastic is accounted for as floating on the surface of the ocean, which means that > 99% of the plastic that ever entered the ocean is ‘missing’. AtlantECO will map the distribution of plastic in the Atlantic Ocean, investigate its sources and interactions with the microbiome, and quantify its transfer ‘up’ into the food web and ‘down’ into the ocean’s interior and deep-sea ecosystems.
Seascape and connectivity
The Atlantic seascape is made of 3D physical processes such as large river plumes, upwelling and downwelling associated with coastal winds and mesoscale eddies, boundary currents and gyres. This highly dynamic system shapes the gene flow (plasticity and evolution) of marine microbiomes and the ecosystem services that they provide. AtlantECO will quantify the connectivity in the Atlantic Ocean and use climate models to predict species migration, the transport of pollutants and biohazards such plastics and nutrients originating from coastal urbanisation, and their impact on harmful algal blooms and aquaculture.
AtlantECO will work in close collaboration with the Ocean Health Index (OHI), a tool used to measure the performance of stakeholder countries with respect to the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. AtlantECO will provide the OHI with new indicators and essential ocean variables that address five ecosystem services:
Climate support system:
pumping and storing carbon in the ocean.
Deep ocean life support system:
transferring matter & energy to mesopelagic and seabed ecosystems.
Food security and trophic fluxes:
supporting fisheries and aquaculture
Healthy planet, healthy people:
monitoring plastics, pollutants and biohazards
ensuring a resilient blue economy, including microbiome-based biodiscoveries