The oceans cover nearly 72% of the Earth’s surface and represent more than 90% of the volume that can support life. Nevertheless, to date, only 240,000 marine species have been described although their numbers are estimated at between 500,000 and more than 10 million (estimates do not include microbes, whose numbers probably reach 10 billion). The spread of molecular biology techniques and recent progress in this field now make it possible to surpass the current rhythm of marine species descriptions (approximately 250 new species per year) and accelerate inventory work.
Biodiversity, necessary for human well-being
The extraordinary wealth of marine biodiversity remains nonetheless unknown, although the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) has demonstrated that biodiversity is the keystone to all the ecosystem services required for human well-being (MEA, 2005). Biodiversity conservation strategies will be the determining factor for the maintenance of these ecosystem services, as well as for the resilience of organisms confronted with global change. The European project MAES and the French project EFESE thus aim to assess ecosystem services and functions to implement the policies required to maintain them (MAES 2010; EFESE, 2014).
The impacts of global change and research
The marine environment is subject to multiple stresses such as overharvesting, biological invasions, pollution, and waste of various types and origins – particularly the infiltration of contaminants and microplastics in food chains – whose effects combine with those linked to climate change (particularly global warming, ocean acidification, ocean deoxygenation). These pressures lead to the degradation of ecosystems and reduce the services that they provide. Beyond simple alteration, the destruction of marine habitats, noticeable in the coastal areas as well as offshore areas, endanger the species that depend on them. In this regard, the hurdles to the observation of marine species make it even more difficult to inventory which species that have gone extinct.
Observation and modelling of species distribution areas show shifts according to the changes in habitat and reveal variation in population abundance, etc. The main stakes at hand are to integrate these on-going changes in public policies (e.g. multiannual plans of spatialised and integrated management of the environment and its uses, ecosystem approach to fisheries). However, these approaches require advanced knowledge acquired through research on how ecosystems function, how species interact in these ecosystems and the uses of the ecosystem.
IFREMER and marine biodiversity
The biodiversity research at IFREMER primarily addresses the understanding of the pelagic and benthic ecosystem, particularly phytoplankton biodiversity and food webs. IFREMER supports collaborative research activities such as the research network MarCo that seeks to improve methods to analyse connectivity, an essential parameter in the understanding of ecosystem functioning and necessary for the implementation of sustainable use. Land use planning of marine and coastal resources and space are also addressed in research, particularly through the economic and legal analysis of public policies that involve maritime activities and marine and coastal areas.
These research activities help IFREMER support public policies through its implication in the French transposition of the major European directives Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MFSD), the Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive (WFD) IFREMER participates in the national and regional bodies of scientific experts (e.g. National Council for Nature Protection (CNPN), Scientific Council for Natural Heritage and Biodiversity (CSPNB)) and supports the creation and operation of national biodiversity databanks (National Inventory of Natural Heritage (INPN) and Information System for Nature and Landscapes (SINP) and biodiversity research infrastructures (ECOSCOPE). For example, IFREMER developed the necessary reference lists for mapping benthic habitats, as required for implementation of various European directives.
In addition, the Fisheries Information System (Système d’Information Halieutique -- SIH), developed by IFREMER, contributes to the formulation of public policies on fisheries management. IFREMER – in collaboration with its partners -- brings its expertise to the identification and conservation of essential fish habitats. This biodiversity conservation strategy is part of a global strategy of setting up protected marine areas nationwide, which is one of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) ratified by France.
IFREMER also brings its expertise to the French Protected Marine Areas Agency that contributes to the enhancement of scientific exchanges among PMA managers in mainland and overseas France through the Scientific Interest Group (GIS) HomMer on the visitation, use and governance of Protected Marine Areas.