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iMarine: An innovative approach to data & knowledge sharing for sustainable fisheries management and conservation policies

Climate change, overfishing, natural and manmade disasters, and loss of habitat all threaten the biodiversity of our oceans. The fisheries and aquaculture sectors make a vital contribution to the world’s well-being and prosperity. However, there is an urgent need for more effective management to ensure sustainable fisheries for future generations and to maintain biodiversity in the oceans by protecting the entire ecosystem.

iMarine (www.i-marine.eu) provides a cutting-edge e-infrastructure, facilitating marine and biodiversity scientists, fisheries managers, statisticians and conservationists, as well as key organisations like the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the WorldFisher Center and CGIAR. These diverse specialist communities require highly demanding computing, multidisciplinary data, complex prediction and validation models but typically lack access to such resources. Funded under the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme, iMarine is helping to unlock knowledge on our oceans, allowing us to manage, protect and sustainably benefit from their vast resources. At the same time, iMarine is demonstrating that Europe can play a leading role in supporting a global community to achieve responsible and sustainable use of aquatic resources.

Capitalising on European investments
To capitalise on EU investments in e-infrastructures, iMarine provides seamless access to existing resources, including the capabilities of D4Science, computational services such as the European Grid Infrastructure (EGI) and VENUS-C (Multidisciplinary Environments Using Cloud Infrastructures), as well as data services and currently three core applications: ecological niche modelling (ENM), integrated capture information system (ICIS) and vessel transmitted information (VTI). iMarine manages the entire data lifecycle (capture-manage-analyse), drawing on data from diverse sources, such as biodiversity, environmental monitoring and climate data alongside key information sources, for example on taxonomy and marine species. Pasquale Pagano, iMarine Technical Director & CNR-ISTI - Italy explained, “iMarine’s innovative approach reduces the operational costs of applications by marshalling resources only when needed. iMarine increases accessibility to rich data streams through the on-demand integration of data sets maintained by geographically dispersed organisations. What’s more, iMarine improves legacy application quality of service without incurring large reimplementation costs and enhances application capabilities”.

Providing a gateway to value-add applications and services
To facilitate communities that are geographically dispersed across the globe, the project provides the iMarine Gateway (portal.i-marine.d4science.org), offering easy access to resources and applications to unlock knowledge on our oceans. iMarine supports ecological niche modelling for the analysis of environmental datasets about temperature, precipitation, altitude, soils and geography. Models can be used to pinpoint and study impact on biodiversity and approaches for conservation management. It is also possible to assess and forecast changes in biodiversity and the dynamics of ecosystems across the globe. For example, prediction models support the analysis of species protection to monitor native habitats and gauge the impact of natural disasters, as well as to find suitable habitats that can help re-balance the ecosystem when needed. It does this by generating probability models for species in our oceans. Vessel trajectory analyses are important not only to calculate fishing activities but also to identify and monitor intense fishing in specific locations, which endangers the ecosystem. iMarine also provides techniques to check the validity of the models used. For example, the Habitat Representativeness Score is an innovative technique to analyse and verify the quality of input data.

Fostering an ecosystem approach to fisheries management
To maximise its strategic value, iMarine draws on the guidance of internationally renowned experts forming part of an Advisory Council and iMarine Board. “With its broad-based set of competences, the Advisory Council can help guide the iMarine developers and their iMarine Board, on their very ambitious undertaking, improving the understanding on user needs and expectations and monitoring informally the progress towards meeting such expectations”, said Serge Michel Garcia, iMarine Advisory Council Member. iMarine and its global advisors are driving forward an ecosystem approach to fisheries management by building and nurturing a “community of practice”. By coming together as a single community, sharing data and knowledge within iMarine and developing tools and information, this community can collectively advance the adoption of an ecosystem approach based on transparent and well-informed decision-making for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources.

Looking Ahead
The strategic value of iMarine is being increasingly recognised. The European Marine Board , a pan-European platform working in association with the European Science Foundation (ESF), has spotlighted iMarine as one of several emerging technology innovations, called “blue technologies”. These emerging technologies are very important in that they are driving smarter, more efficient and cost-effective approaches for a sustainable future while maintaining responsibility towards nature. “iMarine is now exploring its potential to help address common data exchange challenges faced by most EU member states, over 20 Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) and all the countries that have bilateral fishing agreements with Europe”, said Marc Taconet, iMarine Board Chair & FAO. The longer term sustainability of iMarine is an important goal that is underpinned by the development of business cases for its value-add applications and services. After nine months activity, iMarine, as an e-infrastructure enabling technology for scientific excellence, will be keeping a focus on knowledge and a close eye on the needs of new users to ensure they gain real benefits in the years to come.

About iMarine
iMarine (www.i-marine.eu; info@i-marine.eu) is empowering users in the marine community and beyond by providing a highly efficient e-Infrastructure to accelerate data discovery, exchange, and analysis, tools and platforms that facilitates scientific discovery. Funded by the European Commission's 7th Framework Programme, a number of iMarine services are already available through the iMarine Gateway supplying cross disciplinary data to support experts in the field. iMarine brings together a Consortium with a proven track record in e-infrastructures, marine science, biodiversity and policy, including GEIE ERCIM (France), Italian National Research Council – CNR (Italy), National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (Greece), CERN (Switzerland), Engineering (Italy), Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (Greece), Terradue (Italy), Trust-IT Services Ltd (UK), FAO, Fishbase Information and Research Group (Philippines), UNESCO, Centro de Referentia en Informacao Ambiental – CRIA (Brazil) and Institut de Recerche pour le Developpement – IRD (France). Observers supporting iMarine are Flanders Marine Institute (Belgium), SPECIES 2000 (UK) and NEAFRC. The project’s strategic objectives are supported by the iMarine Board, helping to define a governance model, technical and policy recommendations, and an Advisory Council, chartered with championing the ecosystem approach and providing guidance on the business cases.

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