Marine Mammal Ecology
As apex predators, marine mammals exert an important top-down control and play a crucial role in the ecosystem functioning and shaping of the food-web in marine systems. Knowledge on the status of these top predators is imperative to have an idea on the status and health of the ecosystem and, as such, these predators are used as sentinels for monitoring aquatic ecosystem health. MARECO has broad experience studying marine mammal populations using aerial surveys, passive acoustic monitoring, and strandings analysis. MARECO advises the Belgian federal government on the monitoring and management of marine mammals in view of the main threats they are facing today which include climate change, bycatch, marine litter, and the increase in acoustic pollution.
The Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is the most common cetacean in the North Sea, including Belgian waters. They are a predominantly coastal dwelling species and are usually encountered solitary or in small groups. Their high metabolic rates and limited capacity to store energy makes these small, endothermic predators living in cold to temperate waters especially vulnerable to anthropogenic disturbance. MARECO aims at a better understanding of the effect of human activities including conservation efforts on Harbour porpoise. Our research is based on a combination of aerial surveys, passive acoustic monitoring, and strandings analysis and is integrated in a wider European framework (ICES WGMME, ASCOBANS, CEAF).
Human activities like shipping, offshore renewable energy developments, dredging, fishing and leisure activities, all produce underwater sound and contribute to increased underwater sound levels. In this era of Blue Growth, underwater sound is an ever more important aspect to consider in environmental studies. The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive considers the introduction of underwater energy as sound an issue to know and to control. Both impulsive and continuous underwater sound are investigated by MARECO. Field measurements and data treatment are both executed in house within the framework of several research projects focused on the Belgian part of the North Sea.
MANAGEMENT, CONSERVATION, RESTORATION
Science- and ecosystem-based policy and management advice is at the heart of MARECO’s activities. With its solid foundation in marine ecology with a focus on impact assessment and options for nature conservation and restoration, MARECO is well-positioned to contribute to the science-policy nexus. We advise Belgian authorities on marine environmental policy and management, and assist implementing international legislation in the Belgian part of the North Sea. MARECO experts represent the Belgian state in various intergovernmental scientific and advisory bodies dealing with marine science, policy and management, comprising working groups of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, the Oslo-Paris Convention and the European Commission. We also provide ad hoc advice to blue industries and foreign authorities.