Blue Growth in the Mediterranean was on the highlights in a two-day conference held on 18/19 April under the auspices of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Presentations on various projects and existing best practices that promote the BLUEMED agenda were delivered by invited experts, and set the scene on what is anticipated to be a strong push for research and innovation in favour of blue jobs and growth in the maritime sector in the region.
Prof. Aldo Drago, Head of the Physical Oceanography Research Group (ex PO-Unit) within the Department of Geosciences, made two presentations on international initiatives in which the University of Malta is a key player. The Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS) was presented on behalf of MERCATOR OCEAN, the French centre for analysis and forecasting of the global ocean, and the entity entrusted by the European Commission to implement and operate the service. Dedicated to ocean observation and monitoring, CMEMS is one of the six services delivered in the Copernicus programme, creating value by distributing regular and systematic core reference information on the state of the global oceans and the European regional seas. The service is designed to serve many public, commercial and scientific purposes including major EU policies, combating pollution, protection of marine species, maritime safety and routing, sustainable exploitation of ocean resources, marine energy resources, climate monitoring and hurricane forecasting. It also aims at increasing general public awareness by better informing European citizens about ocean-related issues.
The PO-Res. Grp. are a historical partner in the MyOcean series of projects that led to CMEMS, and is a champion user of CMEMS data as an intermediate user to downscale forecasts to the shelf and coastal scales. It also acts as the local broker to promote the uptake of CMEMS data by Maltese stakeholders. In particular, the M.Sc. course on Applied Oceanography run by the PO-Res. Grp. is a showcase resource to empower future marine professionals with skills in operational oceanography and in the intelligent derivation of added value and knowledge from marine data for smart and innovative applications.
In the other intervention Prof. Drago presented the extended Adriatic Ionian Ocean Observing System (eAIROOS) proposal to set up a regional marine observation network in the macro-region including Malta and Tunisia. The policy brief on eAIROOS prepared within the RITMARE project funded by the Italian Ministry highlights the targets of such a system as a framework for the sustained, coordinated and routine acquisition, sharing and elaboration of relevant marine data as a backbone to the Blue Economy. Data platforms feeding the production chains of integrated services covering the full spectrum of users are increasingly becoming key assets for economic growth and benefits while addressing the exigent needs for safeguarding the environment and securing protection against hazards.
The presentation served to launch the initiative within high profile circles. The Maltese EU Presidency provides the ideal setting to promote eAIROOS as an initiative promoted by Malta and following the trail of the BlueMed initiative which started under the Italian EU presidency. Emphasis was made on how eAIROOS intends to strengthen links with industry, businesses and entrepreneurs to exploit marine data for innovative smart applications, generate a multiplier effect through win-win data usages and enhancing the marine knowledge value chain.
Prof. Alan Deidun delivered a presentation on the MED-JELLYRISK project and another on the SeaofSkills project. MED-JELLYRISK was funded within the framework of ENPI CBCMED and ran between 2013 and 2015. Within this project, a number of mitigation measures to assist coastal stakeholders address the increasing phenomenon of jellyfish blooms were designed, including a jellyfish dispersion model and the deployment of anti-jellyfish nets, as well as a number of citizen science and public awareness tools, including a smart phone app, seaside boards and jellyfish identification manuals, factsheets and sting treatment booklets. The project website is still operational and can be consulted through www.jellyrisk.eu
SeaofSkills is funded under Erasmus+ and has the ultimate aim of delivering vocational educational material for fishers in Malta, Greece and Turkey. The project, which runs till August of this year, has organised a number of training and multiplier events within the participating countries with the aim of optimising the training material for fishers through liaison with stakeholders, including national fisheries, environmental and transport authorities as well as vocational education and training providers. The training material is organised along five chapters, including safety at sea, technology on fishing boats, cold chain management, business model development and the application of ecosystem-based management to fisheries. Further information about the project can be gleaned from www.seaofskills.eu
The project BioDiValue was presented by Audrey Zammit, also from the Physical Oceanography Research Group. This project, which was executed between 2012 and 2015, highlighted the influence of marine traffic on biodiversity in the marine environment. A network of AIS antennae was set up to monitor the movement of shipping vessels in the area around the islands of Malta and Sicily. An extensive study of the sediments in selected Sicilian (Augusta, Siracusa and Lampedusa) and Maltese (Grand Harbour and Marsaxlokk Freeport) harbours was also carried out.