Research Outline

Project Overview of the ICONA network

The project aims at facilitating innovative research on the ecosystem-level effects of ocean acidification using natural analogues and to efficiently disseminate the findings that can underpin adaptive management strategies to mitigate the impacts of rapidly changing ocean conditions.

To achieve this aim, the network has identified several objectives:

  1. Facilitate research using natural analogues for ocean acidification through capacity building
  2. Assess the impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems using multiple natural analogues and possible adaptation strategies
  3. Promote data exchange and the dissemination of findings
The ICONA network will facilitate, among other activities, the exchange of researchers and students. It is initiated by three centres of excellence in Japan, Italy and France and partner institutes.

Facilitate research using natural analogues for ocean acidification through capacity building

The ICONA network aims to develop guidelines and standard protocols for the use of natural analogues in order to enable the systematic observation of the ecosystem level impact of ocean acidification. These guidelines will allow a better comparability of the findings at different analogues and will facilitate the use of new natural analogues. The guidelines will be drafted during workshops and field surveys at the CO2 seeps in Shikine Islands (Japan), Vulcano Island (Italy) and Ambitle Island (Papua New Guinea) to be held during 2021-2023.

The guidelines will primary focus on defining protocols for:

  1. the monitoring of physico-chemical environments at natural analogues
  2. the design of manipulative and mensurative experiments at natural analogues
  3. the reporting and sharing of data obtained at natural analogues
The expertise, facilities and resources of the ICONA project will be used to provide education to young researchers and foster a new generation of scientists. Seminars, symposiums and the exchange of students and young researchers will be organised yearly among the different participating institutes. MOUs across institutes are now under negotiations.

Assess the impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems using multiple natural analogues and possible adaptation strategies

The project focuses on important marine ecosystems like coral reefs, kelp and macroalgal forests and seagrasses in the Pacific, Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. It investigates ecologically relevant marine species that provide significant ecosystem services from habitat provisioning through to carbon sequestration, which recent work have shown to be disproportionately impacted by ocean acidification. Italian, French, English and Japanese scientists involved in this proposal have pioneered ocean acidification research in volcanic CO2 seeps around the world and will be able to take advantage of the many natural ocean acidification analogues they have in their countries. The main research objectives are:

  1. to assess the impact of ocean acidification on marine biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and ecosystem goods and services
  2. to identify possible eco-physiological mechanisms of resistance (species level) and resilience (ecosystems level) towards ocean acidification
Using the expertise and experience of the scientists involved in the project and future possible collaborators, specific research targets will be defined through yearly workshops. Taken together, the research objectives aim at identifying thresholds and to produce the required knowledge to build resilience in order to avoid ecological tipping points that would translate into the loss of ecosystem services.

Promote data exchange and the dissemination of findings

A committee of experts including members of the project and renowned scientists working on ocean acidification will be formed. This committee will meet once every two years to assess the gap in our understanding of the effects of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and to define clear research objectives. It will also summarize the findings obtained at natural analogues in order to publish comprehensive reports on the impact of ocean acidification on various marine ecosystems (coral reefs, macroalgal and seagrass beds), ecologically relevant marine species and ecosystem services from habitat provisioning through to carbon sequestration. This report will be translated in several languages and will be distributed to local, national and international stakeholders. Several members of the project are members of the GOA-ON network (Prof Jason Hall-Spencer, Prof Marco Milazzo, Dr Haruko Kurihara, Dr Ben Harvey) which will be a preferred avenue for the dissemination of the report along with local IOC sub-commissions (Western Pacific and Mediterranean sub-commissions). The report will curate and summarise the findings regarding the impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and highlight mitigation and adaptation strategies that can form the foundation for the development of science-based management in order to mitigate the future degradation of marine ecosystems around the world.

Project Timeline

Each objective will be divided into different tasks led by PIs from the different institutes. All tasks will start simultaneously as the research objectives will be adjusted through yearly workshops to accommodate the shifting nature of the work. The first expert committee meeting will be organised during 2021 to highlight the gaps in our knowledge of the impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and key research objectives. The first year, 2021, will also focus on the development of the protocol and standardisation of the research methodology. To facilitate multidisciplinary research at multiple sites, two joint research cruises at the different natural analogues: Shikine Island (Japan), Iwotori Island (Japan), Vulcano Island (Italy), Panarea Island (Italy), Ambitle Island (Papua New Guinea) and the Bourace site (New Caledonia) will be organised twice a year by the Japanese, Italian and French partners. Paper writing will take place throughout the project, linked to workshops and project meetings. Expert committee meetings will be organised in 2023 and in the final year of the project, 2025, with the aim to produce the report for stakeholders.

Expected outcome and impact summary

The aims of the ICONA network aligns with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14.3: ‘Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification’. The network aims at developing the required knowledge to develop adaptive management solutions in the context of ocean acidification. Through a strong educational program where open-symposia, student exchanges and the participation of young researchers, the project aims at increasing ocean literacy and fostering the next generation of ocean science researchers and managers. This aim also falls in line with the Decade of the Ocean (2012-2030). Through the publication of a report for stakeholders by an expert committee, the network aims to bridge the gap between scientists and stakeholders. Other end users who may benefits from the research include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with citations of peer-review publications from the project are likely to appear in the following assessment reports, and the Convention on Biological Diversity who in its Technical Report 75, identified natural analogues as a key research area for the study of the impacts on ocean acidification and that has been ratified by the three partner countries. The ICONA network is expected to grow during the funding period (2021-2025) by incorporating new center of excellences and partner institutes. This expansion of the network will ensure the long term continuation of the project beyond the funding period applied for.