A. Preparatory Actions
Action A1: Stakeholder consultation and baseline assessment of social awareness on Marine Invasive Species in the Mediterranean
Consultations with key stakeholders aimed to motivate them and ensure their early participation in the project. In addition, public survey and stakeholder interviews were carried out to compare and assess their baseline awareness regarding the lionfish invasion. These surveys are being repeated in Action D3 to assess whether the project managed to impact the public and stakeholder perceptions during its implementation. The results from the findings of the initial discussions have been published at the Marine Policy journal and the paper can be accessed here.
Action A2: Risk Assessment
This Action included a review of lionfish sightings from the grey literature and social media and preparation of GIS maps identifying lionfish hotspots, monthly removals of lionfish to conduct biological analyses (e.g. morphometrics, weight, gonadal development, stomach contents, otolith extraction and age estimation) and obtain a preliminary knowledge on the biology and trophic ecology of lionfish within the environmental conditions and features prevailing in the Mediterranean Sea. A risk assessment was then developed in line with the EU Regulation 1143/2014 on Invasive Alien Species (IAS). The risk assessment was further refined later in the project based on external revisions, complemented with a risk management (under Action C4) and submitted for inclusion of lionfish in the IAS list of the EU Regulation 1143/2014.
Action A3: Conservation Action Implementation Strategy
This Action aimed to set the ground and formulate/guide the strategy for coordinating, implementing and assessing RELIONMED’s actions.
C. Conservation Actions
Action C1: Development and operation of a surveillance and early detection system
This Action aims to the development and operation of a surveillance and early detection system which, includes a GIS tracking online interactive platform and a mobile smart-phone application to enable the report and record of lionfish sightings in the Mediterranean region. This tool developed by MedMIS, operated by RELIONMED researchers and MedMIS and available to all stakeholders is imperative for all Mediterranean countries as it can identify the distribution of the lionfish, roughly estimate their abundance across the region and allow managers and other stakeholders to take the appropriate action.
Action C2: Development and demonstration of a removal response system
This Action is dependant on a strong stakeholder participation (divers and fishermen) to demonstrate a removal system. Education on the potential lionfish impacts in the form of workshops and incentives in the form of prizes will be given to motivate and engage fishermen, scuba-divers and spearfishers. Fishermen will be trained on safe handling and collection of lionfish to encourage their participation in removals. Divers will be trained on how to use the ANASA removal toolkit that has been developed in the RELIONMED project and how to safely handle lionfish. Motivated individuals are being selected to form Removal Action Teams (RATs) that participate in lionfish coordinated removals and competitions near and within Natura 2000 sites and Marine Protected Areas. The RATs demonstrate rapid response removals in lionfish hotspots.
Action C3: Exploration of lionfish known uses to make removals sustainable
Exploring local commercial uses and creating small market niches for the lionfish creates an essential provision of economic incentive to target and remove the lionfish and is a financially sustainable long-term approach to lionfish control. The aim of this Action is to demonstrate small-scale market niches (seafood and jewellery) to assess the demand for lionfish products; as well as encourage the production of value-added lionfish products. RELIONMED will work with local restaurants to promote the incorporation of lionfish in their menus and with jewellery makers and souvenir shops to explore the potential of creating new income sources by making use of both the edible and discarded parts of the lionfish. The viability and benefits of a business model that incorporates lionfish products will be explored.
Action C4: Risk analysis, guide and tool for managers to control the lionfish
This Action aims to perform a cost-benefit analysis to identify best practices and the tools for managers to assist decision making and action taking. A risk management analysis has been conducted for inclusion of lionfish in the Union IAS list. A model will be developed to help managers estimate the removal effort needed to protect coastal ecosystems from the lionfish impacts. Furthermore, a lionfish management guide presenting the tools and successful practices for lionfish management will be developed and shared amongst other Mediterranean countries.
D. Monitoring of the impact of the project actions
Action D1: Assessment of the socio-economic impact of the project actions on the local economy and population
Socio-economic indicators were determined early in the project and are being monitored during the project implementation (first, second and third year) to assess the impact of RELIONMED on society and economy. This assessment is carried out using pre-defined questionnaires and interviews targeting local stakeholders such as: fishermen (professional and recreational), dive businesses, beach visitors, pet shops, restaurants and jewellery shops.
Action D2: Assessment of the project's impact on the ecosystem functions
Ecological indicators were determined early in the project and are being monitored during the project implementation (three consecutive summers) to assess the ecological impact of removals. Monitoring for this Action begins in the two last weeks of July/early August during the warmest period when lionfish are more abundant around the coasts of Cyprus. Nine monitoring stations (each ca 0.01 km2) have been selected along the Natura sites 2000 Nisia and Cape Greco to conduct fish and lionfish censuses and to estimate the coverage and diversity of benthic producers and fauna on hard substrata. Six stations are located at 20 m (± 2 m) depth and three at 7 m (± 2 m). Monitoring at each station will comprise four sets of samplings (e.g. Day 0, 15, 30 and 45). Different removal frequencies are being applied to assess the efficiency of removals in mitigating lionfish impacts, and understand lionfish recruitment and recolonization.
Action D3: Assessment of the project's impact on the stakeholder and public awareness
Similar surveys conducted under Action A1 targeting both key stakeholders (n=100) and the general public (n=300) will be repeated in this Action at the midst of the project and in the final year to assess whether RELIONMED has contributed to increased knowledge and awareness of the targeted groups on the lionfish issue.
E. Public awareness and dissemination of results
An array of tools will be utilised to increase awareness of the public and to motivate stakeholders to engage in Action E1. Networking will include meetings and collaboration with other researchers in joint activities. A strong dissemination campaign using posts in social media and participation in TV and radio shows, and utilising produced posters, leaflets, banners, notice boards, videos, aquarium displays, photo exhibitions, scientific publications etc., will aim to stimulate public interest and stakeholder support. This website developed in Action E2 is the main platform to disseminate information about the RELIONMED project. The lionfish surveillance system developed by MedMIS in Action C1 will be also promoted in Action E3. A replication strategy that includes trainings/seminars/workshops will be implemented in Action E4 to transfer lessons learned and tools developed in RELIONMED to key stakeholders of other Mediterranean countries. Local experts in Greece, Lebanon and Israel have agreed to support the transferability of the project outcomes in their countries.
General Remark about the Actions of RELIONMED:
The strategic framework of the RELIONMED project is separated in six themes, targeting the major actions of the project; namely, the (i) early detection, (ii) rapid response, (iii) sustainability of removal pressure, (iv) monitoring, (v) management, and (vi) public awareness and dissemination of the project. Their interconnections are shown in the Figure. Through the conservation actions, an early detection and surveillance system is foreseen that will provide data for the rapid response and commercial exploitation of lionfish. Ecological and socio-economic indicators will be monitored throughout the project. The result of these actions will provide valuable tools and guides for researchers, managers and policy makers of Cyprus and neighbouring countries. For all actions suitable dissemination and transferability activities are planned so to raise public awareness about lionfish and invasive species and share the identified best-practices to the wider scientific and management community.