Environment: ENEA puts "out to sea" the first artificial algae to study climate change

ENEA has designed, 3D printed and "transplanted" 60 non-toxic silicone resin algae similar to natural algae in the Bay of Santa Teresa[1] (La Spezia) to test its suitability for colonisation by marine organisms. The studies will also serve to understand the mitigation effect of climate change and protection exercised by natural algae on associated fauna. These are the objectives of the project "Will coralline algae reef mitigate climate change effects on associated fauna?", conducted by ENEA in partnership with CNR and the University of Portsmouth (which proposed the initiative) and funded by the Royal Society International Exchange Grant RS-CNR . The news was published in the prestigious New Scientist magazine.

The 60 artificial reefs, also called mimics, were made by imitating the colour and structural properties of Ellisolandia elongata[2], a coral algae typical of the shallow Mediterranean seabed and known to be able to withstand periods out of the water and strong variations in temperature, salinity and pH. An important "ecosystem engineer" and oasis of biodiversity in our sea, numerous marine organisms find shelter, food and areas for reproduction among the flexible fronds of this algae.

These 60 lookalikes of natural algae were "transplanted" on the natural reef about 50 cm deep to initiate their acclimatisation phase and to allow the bacterial biofilm to cover the mimics, favouring colonisation by organisms like small starfish, crustaceans, molluscs and many other species.

"There are two innovative aspects to this study", says Chiara Lombardi of ENEA's Department of Sustainability of Productive and Territorial Systems. "On the one hand, it is important to understand how a 'tolerant' organism like Ellissolandia elongata, an 'oasis' of biodiversity in our sea, can be able to 'mitigate' the effects of climate change by protecting the fauna associated with it. On the other hand, with the verification of the mimics' suitability for colonisation new applications become possible such as the creation of artificial micro reefs for the recovery and restoration of natural habitats that have been exploited and impoverished by human action".

The two-year project (2016-2018) is divided into two phases: during the first phase of design, microtomographic scans of natural algae were carried out[3]. Subsequently, the first prototypes of mimics made of artificial leaves and bases were "printed" in 3D at the Marine Environment Research Centre of Santa Teresa and then tested to verify their resistance and non-toxicity. In the experimentation phase, currently under way, a multiparametric observatory[4]has been established to capture marine data such as temperature, salinity, alkalinity, pH, oxygen. Over the course of a year the mimics will be monitored and sampled[5] with the aim of evaluating their suitability for colonisation by the fauna populating the natural reef.

In the second phase of the project, from June to December 2018, natural reefs and the mimics will be immersed in the tanks of the "Acquari" Laboratory at the ENEA Marine Environment Research Centre and subjected to experiments: pH and temperature parameters will be studied with predictions until 2100, the associated fauna response will be assessed and any changes in the structural and geochemical physiology of the natural algae will be analysed.

For more information:

Watch - Artificial algae  in the Bay of Santa Teresa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFK3fJZ1RR8

Chiara Lombardi, ENEA – Department for Sustainability of Productive and Territorial Systems, chiara.lombardi@enea.it

Link to the article in the magazine New Scientist: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2134211-rubber-algae-help-create-first-artificial-reef-in-mediterranean/

[1] https://www.google.it/maps/@44.0862003,9.893012,2797m/data=!3m1!1e3=

    [2] Ragazzola F., Raiteri G., Fabbri P., Scafè M., Florio M., Nannini M., Lombardi C. (2017) “Structural integrity of Ellisolandia elongata reef: a mechanical approach to compare tensile strengths in natural and controlled environments”. Marine Ecology, Accepted (in press).

      • Lombardi C., Raiteri G., Fabbri P., Scafè M., Florio M., Nannini M., Ragazzola F. (2016) “Structural Integrity of Ellisolandia elongata reef: a mechanical approach to compare tensile strength between samples grown in natural and controlled habitats”. RT/2016/1/ENEA

        [3]With the contribution of the Laboratory of Sources and Diagnostic Antennas, Physics of Fusion Division, Fusion and Nuclear Safety Department - ENEA

        [4] With the contribution of the Earth and Climate Observation and Analysis Laboratory, the Division for the Protection and Valorisation of the Territory and Natural Capital, the Department for Sustainability of Productive and Territorial Systems of ENEA and CNR ISMAR of Bologna and Trieste.

        [5] In collaboration with the Universities of Pavia and Pisa

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