Research of blue carbon sinks in Posidonia oceanica meadows in Telašćica Nature Park (2020)

Coastal marine ecosystems such as seagrass meadows, especially Posidonia oceanica, are significant carbon storages. Such carbon, stored in the sediments of marine flowering plants (seagrasses) and salt marshes, is called blue carbon. In terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation, everyone agrees that terrestrial forests need to be preserved. But P. oceanica meadows also store significant amounts of carbon in their surrounding sediment, and are under great human impact which can lead to the release of additional amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In addition to all the known roles that this type of plant has (oxygen production, important habitat, protection of coast from erosion, supporting biodiversity), this is another important role for which it needs to be better protected.

The past two years will surely be marked by our first participation in this project which is our first project co-financed by MedPAN, a network of protected area managers whose official partners we became in 2018. The project entitled “Development of guidelines for the implementation of blue carbon in the MPA Telašćica Management Plan” we implemented as partners to the main partner the Public Institution Nature Park Telašćica, and University of Zadar, Department of Ecology, Agronomy and Aquaculture as second partner.

The first and extremely important activity of the project was the initial workshop where we had the honor to host foreign experts who have been leading and implementing similar projects in their contries for some time. We spent a few days with them during which they introduced us to the methodology and methods of sampling and analysis. Then we held an open conference – workshop in October 2019 on Dugi otok in Sali for and with representatives of other important stakeholders in nature protection in Croatia. At the workshop, we gathered various representatives who were presented the results of the LIFE Blue Natura project, which were presentes by our mentors, but also the ideas and activities of this project. Between sets of lectures and discussions, we exchanged knowledge and many years of experience, expanded our aspects of action and received extremely valuable advice on how to conduct the field part of the research that awaited us.

Field research was conducted in several bays of the Telašćica Nature Park. It included sampling of sediment by cores and sampling of seagrass biomass of Neptune seagrass within the square size defined by the methodology,

On the field, we encountered many obstacles that we successfully surpassed. Blue carbon research is complex, and it all starts with very complex sampling. This sampling requires several very skilful SCUBA divers, a favorable and appropriate location, cores that must be sticked into the sediment to a depth more than 1.5 meters with the help of a large sledge hammer and the same is taken out with the help of a – mechanic car lift!

At the end of the field trips, the samples were taken over by the University of Zadar, which conducted further analyzes in their laboratory. The amount of carbon in sediment, the amount of carbon in living seagrass, the source and dating (age) of carbon – all these are elements that need to be known in order to properly manage the meadows given their role as a blue carbon sinks – something that is still unknown and needs futher research in Croatia.

The situation with the coronavirus crisis slowed down the project activities, but something that was being worked on all the time was the main activity of the project, and that is – compiling guidelines for the implementation of blue carbon in the new management plan of the Telašćica Nature Park. We participated in several meetings and consultations that over the course of several months resulted in a final product ready for implementation as soon as the revision of the current Park Management Plan begins.

Greater attention focused on Posidonia meadows as an important habitat and its added value as a blue carbon sink is something we certainly support and hope will become something that other marine protected areas will include in their management plans.

What we consider extremely important in every project in which we participate is – education – not only employees, members and volunteers who carry out project activities, but the general public and especially young people and children on whom the world remains. With this in mind, we conducted several educational workshops for local pupils of Petar Lorini Elementary School from Sali. We have already hung out with them through some other projects, so pupils already had some background knowledge on Posidonia, and through these workshops we gave them another additional perspective of this strange sea plant. We connected continental meadows with this sea meadows, how similar and how different they are; we talked about the strange reproductive cycle of Posidonia with its floating olive-like fruits and explained to them the concept of blue carbon sinks and how important it can play in something we all feel – climate change. In addition to this story time, we had to show something practical also – so the students got acquainted with our research and the equipment we use and what are the complexities that characterize underwater research, and especially research of Posidonia. Certainly we all agreed that Posidonia is extremely important for all of us and that we need to continue to protect it and spread knowledge about it and its ecosystem services so that there are as many of its “lovers” and as few who fear it as “the dark in the sea in which everything is hidden “.

The project was successfully concluded with another workshop with stakeholders of the blue sector and the nature protection sector – this time in the online edition! At the workshop / conference, all the results of the project were presented as well as the final guidelines that will be implemented in the management plan.

The project “Development of Guidelines for the Implementation of Blue Carbon in the MPA Telašćica Management” was co-financed by the MedPAN organization (Network of Marine Protected Areas Managers in the Mediterranean).

This project was implemented in partnership with the Public Institution of the Telašćica Nature Park, which was also the main partner of the project, with 20,000 leagues Society and the University of Zadar (Department of Ecology, Agronomy and Aquaculture).