Mad_iMPAct Project




Anthropogenic impacts in marine protected areas of the Madeira archipelago: interactive effects of marine debris, pollution and invasive species.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are areas of sea dedicated to protect important habitats and representative samples of marine life which can assist in restoring the productivity of the oceans and avoid further degradation. In contrast, coastal areas are exposed to anthropogenic pressures from different sources (e.g. marine debris, metal pollution, non-indigenous species). In this context, anthropogenic marine debris (AMDs) are one of the major threats to marine life due to ingestion of plastic debris, transport of marine species around the world as well as acting as vector for heavy metals. The constant presence of AMDs in oceanic waters urges a comprehensive understanding of the impact of these stressors, particularly to MPAs. At MARE – Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre but in close collaboration with the Nature Park of Madeira, I propose to investigate whether the MPAs of Madeira are sensitive to single and interactive effects of AMDs, non-indigenous species and pollution.

The Madeira archipelago has a vast maritime zone extending from distant areas of the main island (e.g. Ilhas Selvagens) to extensive portions of the coast of Madeira. Included in this vast zone, there are five marine protected areas (MPAs): Garajau, Rocha do Navio, Ilhéus do Porto Santo, Ilhas Desertas and Ilhas Selvagens. These areas allow an inclusive and sustainable development as they provide unique opportunities for the implementation of a modern nature and scientific tourism. However, the uses and users of marine ecosystems can threaten, change and destroy the many processes and resources that they depend on. A considerable amount of plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles and fishing gear are discarded into the marine environment every day, making anthropogenic marine debris (AMD) one of the most extensive pollution problems our planet is facing today. Scientists, policy makers and the general public are well aware of the harm caused by the ingestion of small plastic debris from several marine species such as mammals, turtles, cetaceans, fishes or seabirds.


However, the role of marine debris in potentially mediating new biological invasions is more unknown. These materials are non-biodegradable and thus serve as permanent rafts that potentially can transport and contribute to the dispersal of marine species. For example, benthic organisms such as molluscs, bryozoans, barnacles, and hydroids are commonly found on floating plastic debris. The particular vulnerability of island ecosystems to human degradation and the ubiquity of plastic debris in ocean waters makes on-debris transport of fouling species a matter of particular concern to the MPAs of Madeira. In addition, the number of marine non-indigenous species (NIS) in Madeiran waters has been increasing in recent years due to on-going monitoring surveys of harbours and marinas of both Madeira and Porto Santo did by Canning-Clode Marine Lab team and collaborators. However, to the best of my knowledge, no monitoring surveys for NIS were ever conducted in the MPAs of Madeira and its real impact is, therefore, unknown.

The propose of this study is to investigate and examine if there are effects of anthropogenic impacts (i.e. marine debris, metal pollution and non-indigenous species) on marine biodiversity of the Madeira MPAs in a 6-year project. In a first stage, we will conduct seasonal surveys to monitor AMDs and metal pollution risk in Madeiran waters and shores (i.e. MPAs and human impacted shores) of the study area. I will then use manipulative experiments to evaluate the abundance/diversity of NIS which are arriving to MPAs and the combined effect of the three stressors (AMDs, pollution and invasions) on marine biodiversity.