A holistic approach for the assessment of the ecological status of coastal waters: the case of Vasilikos Bay (ΟΙΚΑΠΑΒ)

3 years (November 2011 – November 2014)

Funded by:
Research Promotion Foundation (funds from the Republic of Cyprus and the EU Regional Development Fund 2007-2013)

Project partners:
Marine & Environmental Research (MER) Lab Ltd (Coordinator)
Oceanographic Center, University of Cyprus
Department of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Geomatic TC Ltd

Project Description:
Vasiliko Bay is a small, semi-enclosed bay located at the south coasts of Cyprus. The bay is heavily impacted by intense anthropogenic activity which occurs at both the coastal and the marine environment. The main marine and coastal uses include: a) Tourism, b) Fish farms, c) Ports and Terminals, d) Cement Factory, e) Power Station, f) Cyprus Energy Center (under construction), g) Fishing activities. Furthermore, construction of a Desalination plant and a Fuel Unloading Platform as well as gas storing land facilities are underway. Despite existing extensive anthropogenic pressures a comprehensive study to assess the ecological status of the Bay has not yet been carried out.

The aim of this funded project was to assess the ecological status of Vasiliko Bay with biological quality elements and WFD indexes: a) macroalgae/seagrass EEI at 16 coastal stations, b) macrofauna AMBI and Bentix at 43 stations, and c) Posidonia oceanica LAI 30 stations and PREI and BiPO at 10 stations. P. oceanica meadows was mapped using side scan sonar and satellite imagery, georeferenced and processed in ArcGIS. The quality of the sediment was estimated by analysing pollutants (mercury, hexachlorobenzene, hexachlorobutadiene) and determining parameters: granulometry, organic matter, carbonates, active iron, and acid volatile sulfides for calculating the index PVL at 43 stations. Through the application of all the above, useful information on the ecological status of Vasiliko Bay was collected that helps identify potential sources of pollution, thereby contributing to appropriate strategic management measures for the Bay.

In addition, the aquaculture dispersion models Meramod and MOM were simulated for the fish farms that operate in the region to estimate the carrying capacity of the farms and the induced environmental impacts at the benthos. The models provide aquaculture managers, environmental consultants and the competent authorities a simulation tool for estimating the carrying capacity of fish farms currently in operation and the benthic impacts in relation to potential increased production.

Moreover, four P. oceanica monitoring systems were set up at the deepest meadows close to fish farm units: a) Seawave Fisheries Ltd, b) Blue Island Fisheries Ltd, c) EMAT and iv) Control station with similar physical characteristics (inactive fish farm ICTHYS). The establishment of these monitoring systems is of great significance because the competent authority and researchers will be able for the first time to assess the long term impact of fish farms at Vasiliko Bay on the protected seagrass. If impacts are detected appropriate mitigation measures can be undertaken on time.

Finally, the results obtained from this research will be used as a management tool in the Bay to ensure the sustainability of human activities and amelioration of impacts to the marine environment. In particular, in collaboration with the Department of Environment a protocol for conducting marine EIA studies (both in Vasiliko Bay and other coastal areas) was developed.

Objectives of the project:
The overall objective of the project was to enhance the competitiveness and productivity of marine research at Cyprus through major upgrades to existing services that MER Lab Ltd provides and the development of a specialized marine environmental research team.

The scientific and technological objectives of the project were: a) Digital mapping of the ecological status of Vasiliko Bay and the creation of a GIS cartographic data bank which includes quantified results of i) indices AMBI, Bentix, EEI, ii) the study of P. oceanica meadows health status (shoot counts, LAI, BiPo, and PREI) and spatial distribution of the seagrass in the Bay, iii) the PVL and the contaminants in the sediment, b) P. oceanica mapping using cutting edge technology, c) MOM and Meramod simulations, to estimate the carrying capacity of major fish farm units (seabream and seabass) and the benthic impacts at various production scenarios, d) establishment of four monitoring systems to observe long-term changes to the protected seagrass P. oceanica.

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Contact information of scientific coordinator
Demetris Kletou
Tel. #: (+357) 99527679
Email: dkletou@merresearch.com