Wednesday, October 19, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (10/19/16): How healthy is the Mediterranean?

A few weeks ago... 

... my travels took me on a tour of the Greek islands.  I don't know why they weren't on my bucket list before now, but they were such a beautiful place that I'll definitely return in the future.  It was that nice.  

On Santorini, the cliffside town of Oia overlooks the sea.

It's better than I ever imagined it to be.  The water is clear, the air is pure and sweet, the food is superb, and everywhere you go there's a sense of deep history.  

And, as you might expect, I spent one morning going on a dive.  The water wasn't just clear, it was crystalline clear.  When I asked the divemaster about it, he commented that the visibility was "only 30 meters"  (90 feet), on a good day "you can see at least 60 meters"  (180 feet).  That's astoundingly good, and I was optimistic that my dive off the shores of Crete would be just amazing.  

The crystal clear Aegean... 

As you can see, the water really is transparent (and a beautiful blue).  

So I was surprised when I saw relatively little sea life.  A few fish here and there, a fleeting sighting of an octopus, a bit of algae, and that's about it.  

Although I only dove the one time, everywhere I went in Greece I would stare into the water, looking for something with more life in it than the waters I saw.  Sadly, I didn't see much.  (Unfortunately, I didn't have my underwater camera with me...)  

My dive was about 2 km from here, just off the coast of Crete in an uninhabited area.

But it made me think:  Is this really the "normal" condition of submarine life around Greece?  What about the Mediterranean more generally? 

This leads me to this week's SearchResearch Challenge:  

1.  How healthy IS the Mediterranean?  Are there still places where one could go diving and see a rich, healthy, submarine Mediterranean ecosystem that's full of fish, invertebrates, corals, and other marine organisms?  Where should I go to have this experience?   (Note: Anything outside the Straits of Gibraltar, or the Bosporus Strait, or doesn't count.)   

More generally, I'm interested in how much the Mediterranean has changed over the past 100 years.  Has it always been like this?  Or has something changed recently?  

In my quick initial check to answer this question, I found that it wasn't exactly simple to answer this Challenge.  It's a large, difficult-to-frame question--but this kind of question is typical of the big research questions we want to answer.  This is smaller than "is global warming a real phenomenon," but larger than "what's the best pizza in New York City?"  There are also a fair number of authors who have a particular outcome that they're trying to get you to believe.  

I'm curious how you'd approach this kind of large-concept research question, so be sure to let us know HOW to approached the question, and how you assessed the information you found.  What resources look good to you?  Do you believe what they say?  

Obviously, you could write a book about this--but you don't need to--I'm interested in what resources you find and whether or not you believe what they say.  

I'll be working on this Challenge over the weekend and will post my results on Monday.  

Curiously, I say  "Search On!"  


  1. 1. How healthy IS the Mediterranean? Are there still places where one could go diving and see a rich, healthy, submarine Mediterranean ecosystem that's full of fish, invertebrates, corals, and other marine organisms? Where should I go to have this experience?

    More generally, I'm interested in how much the Mediterranean has changed over the past 100 years. Has it always been like this? Or has something changed recently?

    I'm curious how you'd approach this kind of large-concept research question,

    Well, my first shot at looking into the Big Picture was to go to New Scientist and search for [Mediterranean]

    Hundreds of hits nicely laid out. So, what has changed?

    I see right off, these: Over Fishing, over population, over exploitation, pollution, raw sewage, accelerated erosion and deforestation to accomodate the enormous influx of tourists,

    Longer summers are killing the corals

    All contibute to this biological 'desert'

    New SCientist is a well respected honest reporter.

    [best dive sites mediterranaean] finds

    Which is TOP 10 SITES TO GO DIVING IN THE MEDITERRANEAN there plaes like Off the Malta shore at Cirkewwa; Sardinia Schools of pretty colored fish flit through the water in Stintino, Italy Ustia is wonderful for larger marine life as it’s a nature reserve, The Greek island of Chios with wderful array of sea life

    Cheers another wonderful curious Challenge jon

  2. Good day, Dr. Russell and everyone.

    Very interesting topic an such a beautiful photos. I am trying to find known names and sites for this challenge. And after that thinking that maybe some statistics to cover the 100 years part. Reading these first findings looks obvious that we have some issues there and apparently people is working already on them. I'll keep Searching and come back with more

    [Mediterranean fishes diving] went to academic results

    [Mediterranean fishes diving changes]

    2012 NatGeo, Overfishing Leaves Much of Mediterranean a Dead Sea, Study Finds “Unfortunately, around Turkey and Greece, the waters were bare.”

    Some fish species are changing their geographical distribution and abundance in the Mediterranean Sea and they are considered by the experts as indicator of climate change

    [Mediterranean waters health]

    Greenpeace has produced an oceans sanctuaries map for the Mediterranean.

    It only adds up to 1% of the world’s oceans, but the Mediterranean sea is one of the most international waters on our planet...Official bodies like the European Environment Agency and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation admit that more than 65% of all fish stocks in the region are in trouble...

    Panda ORG: Threats
    In the Mediterranan Sea marine life is heavily threatened by habitat degradation mostly due to human activities, such as fisheries, ship traffic, water pollution, coastal anthropization

    How to get them clean, healthy and productive by 2020? This is the main question that the EU-funded project called 'PERSEUS' is attempting to answer. (2013)

    1. [Mediterranean Sea healht infographic] in Images and found Ocean Conservancy. There searched "Mediterranean Sea"

      The past five years’ work shows ocean acidification is a serious issue with real financial costs, and that marine life is already being affected

      [Mediterranean fish change over time] in images

      Status of fish stocks in International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) fishing regions of Europe 2008-2009

      In European Environment Agency looked for marine life

      Human activities are causing unprecedented environmental changes for coastal and marine ecosystems Key Fact: only 7% of marine species assessments indicate 'favourable conservation status'

      Commercial fish landings with Good Environmental Status information

      In same site [Mediterranean diving]
      Key messages Marine protected areas (MPAs) Talks about Natura 2000 Network

      [best places to find fish while diving Greece]

      Diving destinations in Greece are numerous


  3. Follow on:

    Eureka alert reports summaries of research projects. I find it accurate. Sources always given. Biodiversity in the Mediterranean is threatened by alien species. There are about 1000 alien species. Numbers way up since Suez Canal opened 147 years ago; species atarted arriving less than 50 years ago and now are 80% greater, ballast water also, navigation canals, aquaculture are main drivers of of species distribution. Eatern Med is markedly warmer over past 29 years now well suited for arrivals from Red Sea etc.

    This report is Article title: Invading the Mediterranean Sea: biodiversity patterns shaped by human activities
    Journal: Frontiers in Marine Science
    DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2014.00032
    Authors: Katsanevakis S, Coll M, Piroddi C, Steenbeek J, Ben Rais Lasram F, Zenetos A and Cardoso A
    Eureka Alerts MArch 2012 Overfishing leaves swaths of Mediterranean barren
    Unprecedented study also finds fish teeming in fully protected areas


    Mediterranean marine life requires fully protected reserves, the scientists write in a paper published Feb. 29, 2012, in the journal PLoS ONE.

    The authors made hundreds of dives over three years off Morocco, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey, Enric Sala, the paper's lead author. "Unfortunately, around Turkey and Greece, the waters were bare.

    Its death by 1000 cuts: overexploitation, destruction of habitat, contamination, a rise in sea surface temperatures due to climate change and more than 600 invasive species

  4. Firstly, it depends on how you define a rich healthy marine ecosystem- is it the total population, the diversity of the population at different levels of the food chain, the diversity of significantly different species, the range of endangered species, the number of endemic species?

    Secondly it depends on how to measure these- fish stocks are usually measured, from catch data- for the Mediterranean these are not very accurate, nor extensive. over the past 100 years there has not been a systematic method for reporting and the scientific advances in taxonomy that have increased the number of known species in that time all make it confusing.

    One of the better articles I found was in Cell Biology journal that considers some of these feature. I find it credible because the authors are able to clearly indicate their data sources and they address some of the definitional problems- So for greatest species richness- go to the Gulf of Lions and the Balearic Islands

    This led to which examines the temporal trends. The findings are both specific and diverse but suggest that the numbers of larger and endemic species are decreasing but he number of smaller and introduced species are increasing. Pretty much all articles concur that the Med is in a worse position than before.

  5. Started out searching for health of Mediterranean Sea (which as I started typing Google suggested so we went with it). First article was from the National Geographic on overfishing in the sea. We would consider the National Geographic a reliable source so read the article to find more information. Although without doing any research this would seem to make sense. This area has been populated for thousands and thousands of years and fish was a source of food, so easy to see that it has been overfished. The article sites a study done by research scientists and reported in the February 29 (2012) issue of the journal PLoS ONE. We will try to get that journal article and read more about the situation. The article states ““We found a huge gradient, an enormous contrast. In reserves off Spain and Italy, we found the largest fish biomass in the Mediterranean,” said National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala, the paper’s lead author. “Unfortunately, around Turkey and Greece, the waters were bare.” So this explains what you were seeing in Greece, Dan. This article also states that other factors besides overfishing are to blame including: “destruction of habitat, contamination, a rise in sea surface temperatures due to climate change and more than 600 invasive species.”
    Green Peace also had a article about the state of the Mediterranean. We would view Green Peace as possibly having a bias (not saying it isn’t a good organization just that they have a very clear agenda and they might not be considered the most neutral of sources). This article sites overfishing, particularly of bluefin tuna, but also fish farming as being problematic. In farming and ranching of fish, outside species are brought in as food sources and these can bring in diseases which harm the native fish. This article talks about chemicals which are used on the farms and that these chemicals could be (the article doesn’t say could be but says they ARE) harmful to sea grass.
    The next result from this search led us to a study reported in 1977 in a special edition of the Journal, Ambio, This journal covers ecology, environmental economics, geology, geochemistry, geophysics, paleontology, hydrology, water resources, oceanography, earth sciences, meteorology, and physical geography. While this source is quite old we figured it would give us a historical perspective on this topic. We would consider this source to be very reputable looking at the credentials of the authors. There seemed to be no inherent bias in the reporting but rather a factual interpretation of the results. Even back in ‘77 there were very obvious threats to the water. Pollutants from mankind because of the large population in the area, wastes contain more synthetic chemicals which are more toxic and we are using more energy which leads to more waste products.
    Will continue our research later. A really fascinating topic. So glad that Dan had another of those “I wonder if …” moments!