MARETERRA ONLUS - ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION
MARETERRA ONLUS - ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION
MareTerra Onlus is a non-profit organization for environmental protection, established on 2012 and formally registered in the list of the non-profit organizations of social utility (ONLUS) of the Autonomous Region of Sardinia (RAS). MareTerra Onlus is enganged in 3 sectors.
1) Scientific research We carry on research projects aimed to the understanding of natural phenomena and ecological process and their interaction with human activities. Here after the description of the ongoing research projects:
- Dolphin Population Conservation The common bottlenose dolphin is one of the Cetacean that most comes into contact with human activities, entering often into competition for food resources or being exposed to sea-related tourism. It is a species with plastic behaviour, able to adopt different behavioural strategies according to geographical and ecological context. Despite being among the most studied species of Cetacean, still many aspects of its ecology remain unknown. Above all, the effect of human activities on sub-populations of small size, therefore more vulnerable, is often totally unknown. Main question 1: How many dolphins live in our study area? The cornerstone of many ecological studies is knowing the abundance of the population in the study area. One of the most used ways to estimate a dolphins' population size is to capture and mark dolphins (by means of the photo-identification technique) and to see what fraction of individuals carry marks in successive samplings. Reason: Monitoring the population sizes give us the basic information to understand the temporal dynamic of the population, to detect trends and incipient change and to evaluate eventual management needs. Main question 2: Can we predict habitat preferences of bottlenose dolphins? Species distribution modelling (SDM) has a long tradition in ecology and it is becoming increasingly important in applied ecology as researchers and managers seek to understand current species distribution patterns and to predict future distributions in the face of climate change, human-assisted invasions and many other ongoing environmental changes. One of the most widely used SDMs in case of incomplete information on sampling effort and not-independent data is maximum entropy (MaxEnt) modelling. Reason: Knowing the distribution and ranging patterns of Cetaceans is important for implementing effective boundaries for SCIs (Sites of Community Importance), SACs (Special Areas of Conservation) and marine protected areas and determining correct management. Moreover, the quantitative evaluation of trends in distribution and abundance is a fundamental requirement for species listed in Appendices II and IV of the Habitats Directive, such as the bottlenose dolphin. The projects is carried on with the cooperation of: University of Sassari - MareTerra Group - Marine Protected Area Capo Caccia Isola Piana
- Dolphin Acoustic The main sense in dolphins is hearing and the most important form of communication is by means of sounds. Unexpectedly the acoustic repertoire of bottlenose dolphins is still incomplete, probably due to equipment limitations, difficulty of working in the field and of adopting objective classification systems. Traditionally, the acoustic signals of bottlenose dolphins are divided into three categories: i) whistles (narrow band, frequency modulated sound); ii) clicks (broadband impulsive sound); iii) burst pulse sounds (short impulsive sound with most energy below 5 kHz). Main question: Which is the acoustic repertoire of bottlenose dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea and how does it change as a function of geographic, behavioural and social context? By collecting sounds of dolphins in different parts of the Mediterranean Sea, we are studying the factors (geographic position and isolation, behavioural and social context, noise levels, presence of boats) that can be able to influence similarity/difference in the acoustic repertoire of bottlenose dolphins. Reason: Quantifying the signals produced by a species is a fundamental step in the investigation of their functionality, geographical differences and social and cultural transmission. The projects is carried on with the cooperation of: MareTerra Group - University of Sassari - Nauta-rcs - Blue World Institute - Dolphin Biology and Conservation
- Dolphin and Noise Since the advent of large-scale industrialisation, acoustic habitats have become increasingly disrupted by anthropogenic noise. Shipping, offshore construction, oil and gas exploration, and sonar operations contribute to the soundscape of the ocean. This noise can mask acoustic cues and elicit behavioural responses, with the potential to cause chronic physiological stress and wider effects on populations and communities. Owing to the increase of boat-traffic in the ocean many studies have been conducted to determine the response of bottlenose dolphin to this kind of disturbance. This species is affected by boats in various ways and the response depends on the behavioural state of the dolphin but also on the kind of vessel. Main objective: to measure the effect of man made noise on the behaviour and acoustic of bottlenose dolphins. Reason: Studies of the last twenty years have pointed out that man-made noise has changed the acoustic landscape of many areas and that it is a cause of deterioration of the good status of species conservation, especially in proximity of populated coasts. Man-made noise is currently recognised as a major global pollutant in the 21st Century and is included in both national and international legislation (US National Environment Policy Act and the European Commission Strategy Framework Directive). According to European Directives, the introduction in the environment of energy, even in the form of noise/vibrations, should be maintained at levels which do not impair the marine environment (Directive 2008/56 / EC of the European Parliament and of the Council - June 17, 2008). This project is part of an international scientific cooperation with the Blue World Institute (Croatia) and the Dolphin Biology and Conservation (Italy).
- Dolphin-watching: Benefits and Risks In the last decades, dolphin and whale watching based tourism have rapidly become really popular in the oceans all over the world, including the Mediterranean Sea. Although many studies have been carried out to understand the economic benefit of whale watching, very few studies have investigated the the short and long term effect on local target species in the Mediterranean and the human dimension of this kind of tourism. Main question 1: How does commercial and accidental dolphin-watching interact with dolphin populations and the ecological condition of the habitat where they live? Dolphins can react to the presence of boats in various ways, that can depend also on local ecological conditions. We are studying the behaviour of bottlenose dolphins in the north-west of Sardinia, the dolphins home range and the ecological conditions within the population range with the aim to measure the consequences of commercial and accidental dolphin-watching. We also work in cooperation with the Blue Word Institute (Croatia) to compare data collected with the same protocol in two different Mediterranean regions. Reason: It is well documented that the fitness of individual Odontocetes repeatedly exposed to dolphin watching can be compromised and that this can lead to population level effects (IWC, 2006). Main question 2: Is a responsible dolphin watching experience able to improve peoples' awareness about the need to change daily behaviours with the aim to support the protection of dolphins and oceans? Reason: Many advocates and marine scientists agree that whale watching activities have the capability to improve the level of environmental knowledge of whale watchers and to encourage their pro-environmental attitudes, if scientific knowledge is given to them by the local guides. The aim of our study, carried out in cooperation with the University of Cagliari and the Blue Word Institute in Croatia, is to experimentally measure if dolphin-based tourism can motivate participants to support marine conservation (which ultimately should result in a conservation outcome).
2) Education and Sustainalble Tourism We are committed in educational projects involving students, schools and tourists. The staff of MareTerra helps students to become marine scientists. Since 2017, we teach Cetaceans Behavioral Ecology in the "Master in Environment and Resource Management" at the Department of Science for Nature and Environmental Resources of the University of Sassari. From 2018 we offer internships for students in the ecological field. Other tham, the staff of MareTerra is aboard of "Progetto Natura" dolphin watching trips to collect scientific data and to raise awareness for conservation concerns. MareTerra also works with the cooperation of many tourist companies in Alghero, with the aim of spreading the culture of responsible travelling and to inform tourists about a more sustainable way to enjoy the sea.