Wednesday, June 8, 2022
José Carlos García Gómez, Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Seville, believes that protecting the marine surface should not only be a matter of "obligatory gratitude", since "our lives also depend on its prevalence and environmental health." Perhaps many people have heard of the oceans as the "thermostat of our planet", that immense regulator whose absence would produce "extreme day-night temperature contrasts that would make life inviable", claimed the expert. But fewer people know that "marine photosynthetic organisms produce between 50% and 70% of the world's oxygen, more than that produced by land-based plants”.
In his opinion, there are three main threats to marine ecosystems. The first two are a direct consequence of global warming, while the third has to do with the huge amounts of CO2 absorbed by the enormous masses of ocean water. Counteracting or at least "mitigating" its effects involves a seemingly simple solution that, however, does not allow for easy formulas: we are faced with the "urgent need to curb the emission of greenhouse gases and, therefore, to establish strict control and reconversion of the sources that produce them". The professor admits that this is, at present, "a pipe dream", although the "significant efforts being made at the international level" allow him to hold on to a thread of hope.
Throughout his career, García Gómez has embarked on countless initiatives focused on marine preservation, especially along the coast of Andalusia. His current outlook combines nostalgia for what used to be with an optimistic belief in our ability to reverse some of the damage that has been done. “The Andalusian coast has undergone very significant changes in recent decades, both physiognomic and environmental. This no longer appears to be reversible, but further actions can be adequately controlled,” he stated. There are ways to "achieve excellent water quality, protect existing biodiversity and even increase and consolidate it through modern techniques of environmental restoration or ecosystemic adaptation of infrastructures", he added. With proper planning, these can act as "artificial habitats, generating biodiversity and promoting genetic connectivity between populations of species".
In one of his current projects -made possible thanks to a collaboration between Fundación Cepsa and the University of Seville- the professor is trying to analyze the implications of an invasive algae with a strange name: 'regulopterix okamurae'. With a flavor similar to the 'wasabi' of Japanese cuisine, originating in the northwestern Pacific, it is not yet known how it reached the Strait of Gibraltar. “The research is fundamentally aimed at discovering the strengths and weaknesses of this invasive species with the aim of studying possible effective mitigation measures for the problem, including forms of exploitation oriented towards the circular economy", he noted.
The team led by the professor, in collaboration with other institutions such as the CSIC, the University of Cadiz and the University of Malaga, is already working on several lines of research for the treatment and use of this species in natural and organic fertilizers or as a source of energy through biodiesel. They also focus on how the bioactive substances of the algae could be a possible source of neuropharmacological compounds for the prevention and treatment of neuroinflammatory processes.
Its rapid expansion capacity means that time is not on our side: its presence has already been detected on the coasts of Marseilles and the Azores. However, the latest records are encouraging, although the professor is wary: "In 2019-2020 it subsided and this year it has gone down a bit more, although there are still some monitoring sites that need to be checked, so we have to be cautious. We are seeing changes”.
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