Environmentalist, Scientist, Volunteer, Waste Collector

Corals and gorgonians marine ecosystems by Stefano Ambroso

CSIC, Instituto de las Ciencias del Mar de Barcelona

"My research focuses on the study of the diversity, ecology and conservation of mesophotic and deep vulnerable marine ecosystems dominated by corals and gorgonians, to provide understanding for the sustainable management and conservation of marine ecosystems"

Stefano Ambroso is a biologist working in the Marine Biology and Oceanography department at the CSIC, Institute of Marine Sciences in Barcelona

Could you please elaborate on your background and the nature of your work?

My research experience began with the development of a research project on spatial distribution pattern of soft corals to obtain my degree in Marine Biology at the Università di Trieste (Italy). During my PhD thesis at the Institut de Ciències del Mar in Barcelona, I focused my research on deep Antarctic benthic communities. I studied the distribution pattern, the abundances and the population structure of different Antarctic gorgonians. I also compared different sampling methods to understand the population dynamics of Antarctic benthic communities. After my PhD I have carrier out intense field experimentation with shallow and deep corals and gorgonians, and studied the viability of their ecological restoration. During my actual postdoctoral positions at the Universitat de Barcelona (Juan de la Cierva Fellowship) I’m acquiring knowledge about the study of coral and gorgonian by means visual noninvasive sampling methods.

How do you envision that your scientific project contributes to raising awareness about significant environmental challenges?

My research focuses on the study of the diversity, ecology and conservation of mesophotic and deep vulnerable marine ecosystems dominated by corals and gorgonians, to provide understanding for the sustainable management and conservation of marine ecosystems.
This research is developed following a multidisciplinary approach combining fieldwork, experimental studies, and a highly diversified collection of laboratory analyses. In this sense, my research includes the study of taxonomy, spatial distribution pattern of species, the state of their populations (demography), energetic condition (lipid content) and reproductive and trophic biology (stable isotopes and fatty acids composition). Combining sampling by scuba diving and the use of underwater technology (Remotely Operated Vehicles, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, Manned Submersible), coral and gorgonians species are studied over extensive areas and depth ranges covering their entire spatial distribution, as the best way to achieve a comprehensive understanding of their ecology and the variability of their responses to environmental features and human induced stressors.

What areas within the realm of the ocean contamination (and others such as over-fishing, etc…) do you believe warrant further investigation?

We already know that each year, billions of kg of trash and other pollutants enter the ocean. Some of the debris ends up on our beaches, washed in with the waves and tides and some accumulates in ocean gyres. Some debris sinks and some is eaten by marine animals that mistake it for food. Another important process, less known, through which chemicals can affect living organisms is bioaccumulation. Bioaccumulation means an increase in the concentration of a chemical in a biological organism over time, compared to the chemical’s concentration in the environment. Poisoning of small consumers can be passed along the food chain to affect the consumers later in the chain. As the concentration of a chemical increases up the food web, it can reach dangerous levels for both fish and the humans who rely on fish as a food source.

Can you provide more details about your restoration projects on gorgonians?

The highly diverse Mediterranean Sea ecosystems host around 7–10% of the world’s marine biodiversity. Shelf waters represent 20% of Mediterranean waters, playing an important role for biodiversity compared with the 7.6% share in the world oceans. However, the marine communities inhabiting the continental shelves and slopes are in a poor conservation state, mainly caused by decades of human impacts. Bottom trawling has greatly contributed to the degradation of deep-water habitats to a point where the abundance of megafauna has declined dramatically. This has caused the
rarefaction and local extinction of multiple species and the simplification of habitats, now mainly formed by vast extensions of barren sediments with low structural complexity and populated by a reduced number of species that tolerate human impacts (e.g. motile or burrowing species). The ability of these habitats to
recover from human impacts is extremely slow since they are formed by long-lived, slow-growing species, with a delayed sexual maturity and limited recruitment. Natural recovery may take centuries so, it is of key importance to actively initiate or expedite recovery and revert degradation. Ecological restoration is an attempt to return a damaged system to an ecological state that is within some acceptable limits relative to a less disturbed system, in order to recover a natural range of ecosystem structure and dynamics.

In your opinion, what are the fundamental qualities of a contemporary hero?

One study published in 2015 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that heroes have 12 central traits, which are: Bravery, Conviction, Courage, Determination, Helpful, Honesty, Inspirational, Moral integrity, Protective, Self-sacrifice, Selflessness and Strength. I personally do not have all these traits but, I think that every person that simply leave this planet better than how he found, can be considered a hero.

Where do you typically turn for reliable information and updates regarding ocean/sea’s issues??

Well, I am a researcher and every day I read scientific articles related to my work. Each article has been published after having gone through a review process by other researchers specialized in the topic. I do not trust anything that is published on the website because it is difficult to know how the data has been collected and how it has been processed, not to mention that the news may have been distorted by unreliable media. Going to the source in my opinion is always the best way to really understand ocean problems.

Are there any books, podcasts, or films you’d recommend to broaden our understanding of these issues?

I have been to Antarctica twice for my Phd and a book that I recommend to understand what is polar science and what we do when we go to Antarctica is Volverás al Antártida by Paco Gómez and Hilo Moreno.
A podcast that I recommend is Observadores Del Mar on spotify.
A documentary that I recommend is A blue silence. A science documentary on the potential impacts of offshore wind energy on marine biodiversity, seascape and fisheries in the Gulf of Roses (Mediterranean, Catalonia, Spain) You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZaqBcuX1wg

Pictures © Laia Sabate

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