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International project Mission Atlantic will map and assess the sustainable development of the Atlantic Ocean

The Marine Institute will join forces with international ocean experts from Europe, Brazil, South Africa, Canada and the USA to map and assess the current and future risks from climate change, natural hazards and human activities to Atlantic ecosystems.

Funded by a €11.5 million grant from the European Union's Horizon 2020 programme, Mission Atlantic will be the first initiative to develop and systematically apply Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (IEAs) at Atlantic basin scale.

This unique IEA approach engages scientists, marine stakeholders, and resource managers, integrating all components of the ecosystem, including human activity, into the decision-making process. In this way, managers and policy makers informed by science, can balance the need for environmental protection with secure, sustainable development, thereby ensuring a positive future for the Atlantic Ocean and its peoples.

Patrizio Mariani, Mission Atlantic Project Coordinator said, “In an era of rapid transformations affecting our societies and our lives, we are asked to provide the scientific knowledge necessary to face future challenges and to guarantee a sustainable future for the next generations. By studying the complex Atlantic Ocean ecosystems, Mission Atlantic will contribute to a better and more sustainable future for life on Earth."

Using high-resolution ocean models, artificial neural networks, risk assessment methods and advanced statistical approaches, Mission Atlantic will accurately assess pressures imposed on Atlantic marine ecosystems, identifying the parts most at risk from natural hazards and the consequences of human activities.

The team will combine existing data from global ocean monitoring programmes with new observations collected using advanced marine robots and acoustic sensors. A truly multidisciplinary approach, these tools will be used to explore plankton and fish distribution in unknown waters, including sub-Arctic and Tropical regions in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Marine Institute is leading the overarching Integrated Ecosystem Assessment approach, central to Mission Atlantic, being carried out for each of the seven Case Study Areas throughout the Atlantic. This will be underpinned by a variety of regional data, including bathymetry and benthic habitat data, provided in particular for the Celtic Sea Case Study through key national programmes, including INFOMAR, the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications funded national seabed mapping programme jointly managed by the Marine Institute and Geological Survey Ireland.

Dr Paul Connolly, CEO of the Marine Institute said, “Through Mission Atlantic, the Marine Institute will collaborate with international partners from both sides of the Atlantic to map and assess the present and future health of the Atlantic Ocean ecosystem. The comprehensive mapping of the depth, character and benthic habitat of our seabed is critical to assess change, manage resources and risks, and to predict understand and realise the potential of our marine resource.”

In addition to expanding scientific knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean, Mission Atlantic will focus on improving education and professional development opportunities in countries bordering the North, South and Tropical Atlantic Ocean. Regional stakeholder platforms will act as “science to governance” interfaces in these areas, enabling local communities to engage with their representatives and stimulate effective policies.

Through co-creation of management recommendations, Mission Atlantic, will contribute to the commitments outlined in the Belém Statement on Atlantic Ocean Research and Innovation Cooperation between the European Union, Brazil and South Africa, and as part of the UN Decade of Ocean Science (2021-2030), supporting society in achieving a sustainable ocean.

Michael St. John, Mission Atlantic Policy lead and Belém Panel Chair said, “In support of the Belém statement, Mission Atlantic will be a catalyst in linking research activities in the South Atlantic and Southern Ocean with those in the North Atlantic. It will identify and strengthen synergies between the Atlantic Research Agenda, AIR Centre; Joint Programming Initiatives, as well as the Strategic Forum for International Science and Technology Cooperation, the European Union's Earth Observation and Monitoring programme - Copernicus, and the Benguela Current Commission. Through its activities, Mission Atlantic will optimise the use and sharing of research infrastructures and, via the development of state-of-the-art data methodologies, enhance access to and management of data on the stressors and services provided by Atlantic ecosystems. Finally, and critically, the project will provide the knowledge and tools necessary to sustainably manage Atlantic ecosystem services as they are impacted upon by climate change and human activities.”