03 Oct 2023

Welcome to the inaugural edition of our EuroMarine Researchers in the Spotlight series, where we engage in captivating conversations with prominent researchers within our network.

Today we welcome Simone Farina, a dedicated researcher studying the effects of human impact on marine benthic ecosystems based at the Integrated Marine Ecology Department of Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn (SZN). Simone led the EuroMarine Foresight Workshop "Toward Multi-species Management of Sea Urchin in the Mediterranean Sea: Between Sustainable Fishing and Marine Forest Conservation (MuMSUMed)".

The Foresight Workshop "Toward Multi-species Management of Sea Urchin in the Mediterranean Sea: Between Sustainable Fishing and Marine Forest Conservation (MuMSUMed)" can be summarised as follows:

The workshop aims to synthesize knowledge on sea urchin ecology and fisheries and develop a research strategy for the management and conservation of coastal habitats in the Mediterranean.

The objectives include identifying key mechanisms driving sea urchin dynamics, discussing multispecies interactions, and integrating these mechanisms into ecological models for fishery management. The outcomes will include a policy document, a conceptual paper, and a plan for an international project.


Simone’s research aims are to study the effects of human impact on marine benthic ecosystems. He is particularly interested in evaluating trophic interactions that involved keystone predators, meso-predators, dominant species, habitat modifiers and complexity structure of habitat in macrophyte communities.

To do so, he carries out removal/exclusion experiments and monitoring activities of species abundance, integrating results with existing historical data in relation with local impacts and climate change.

In particular, he attempts to highlight the effects of fishing and aquaculture activities beside that of increasing of ocean acidification and temperature on wild populations and community structure.

He also attempts to evaluate relationships among ecological processes influencing the population dynamic of functional species, environmental conditions (e.g. hydrodynamic or geomorphological features) and habitats used for anthropogenic activities (high fishing areas, Marine Protected Areas, areas of aquaculture farms, urbanized areas). One of his main goals would be to contribute in creating ecosystemic models for sustainable artisanal fishing in the framework of the Marine Spatial Planning.

EuroMarine: Could you briefly introduce the research topic that your Foresight Workshop focused on and describe its significance in the field of marine science?

The workshop was named "Musmumed: Toward Multi-species Management of Sea Urchin in the Mediterranean Sea: Between Sustainable Fishing and Marine Forest Conservation (MuMSUMed)."

The primary goal of the workshop was to synthesize existing knowledge about Mediterranean Sea urchin ecology and fisheries and lay the groundwork for a medium-term research strategy concerning the management and conservation of a crucial coastal habitat in the Western Mediterranean Sea.

Sea urchins play a dual role in coastal ecosystems. They are both key herbivores critical for ecosystem functioning and a commercially valuable species in local fishing markets. However, overfishing in the Mediterranean has led to the depletion of sea urchin predators, particularly species like seabreams Diplodus spp. and Sparus aurata. This has resulted in sea urchin outbreaks where uncontrolled grazing by sea urchins, primarily Paracentrotus lividus, transforms marine forests into barren areas with low biodiversity. This ecological shift adversely affects biodiversity and ecosystem services, including the loss of nursery areas for commercially important fish. One proposed solution to sea urchin overpopulation has been harvesting, but this approach has faced challenges. Harvesting often targets the largest sea urchins, which are also the primary reproducers, leading to population collapses and unsustainable fishing practices. Moreover, the vulnerability to sea urchin outbreaks varies based on local and regional environmental conditions.

The workshop addressed the growing need for holistic coastal ecosystem management, emphasizing sea urchin population management to preserve marine forests and their ecological services while supporting sustainable artisanal fisheries reliant on sea urchins and their predator fish.

EuroMarine: How did the Foresight Workshop contribute to the evolution and advancement of your research topic? Did it help identify new directions, methodologies, or emerging issues that were previously overlooked?

The Foresight Workshop significantly advanced our understanding of this complex issue by fostering interdisciplinary collaboration. We invited experts from various research fields, including conservation ecology, fisheries, economics, and socio-economics, to engage in discussions.

The workshop focused on fish-sea urchin-macroalgal forest systems and aimed to uncover the intricate relationships between human resource utilization, ecosystem dynamics, and habitat conservation. The inclusion of diverse perspectives allowed us to integrate multiple viewpoints, which was crucial for developing effective management strategies.

During the workshop, we conducted comparisons to understand the underlying processes governing coupled ecological and socio-economic systems. This comparative analysis provided insights into how these systems function and interact. This interdisciplinary approach enabled us to bridge the gap between conservation and sustainable exploitation, which is essential for effective management in complex socio-ecological systems.

EuroMarine: What were the main outcomes or key findings that emerged from your Foresight Workshop? How did these outcomes shape your research trajectory or provide new insights into the topic?

The workshop adopted a multidisciplinary approach in line with EU requirements, integrating conservation perspectives, fisheries modeling, management expertise, and economic modeling.

This collaborative effort resulted in the development of a roadmap for holistic fishery management of fish-sea urchin-marine forest systems. To advance our research further, we formed an interdisciplinary consortium comprising marine ecologists, fisheries scientists, economists, and ecological modelers. This consortium will drive applied research in this field.

EuroMarine: Did your Foresight Workshop lead to any follow-up actions or collaborations? Have you applied for additional funding to further develop your research? If yes, could you describe the subsequent projects or initiatives that resulted from the workshop?

Yes, following the workshop, we applied for funding from the European Biodiversa+ 2021 call, which focused on supporting projects contributing to reversing biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation by 2030.

This highly competitive call attracted 209 pre-proposals. Our project, "MurFor," was one of the 36 selected projects to receive funding, totaling over 44 million euros.

MurFor stands for "Managing sustainable sea URchin fishery and marine FORest conservation." The project's overarching objective is to develop a management framework for the sustainable exploitation of natural resources (fish and sea urchins) from Mediterranean marine forest habitats. This framework aims to maintain ecosystem functioning and conserve biodiversity.

Given the specific ecological and socio-economic conditions linked to sea urchin abundance in the Mediterranean Sea, MurFor will address the need for integrated management perspectives. It focuses on two study regions in the Western Mediterranean Sea: Catalonia (Spain) and Sardinia (Italy). The project will use marine protected areas (MPAs) as controls and implement a multi-modeling approach to identify critical thresholds in habitat, sustainable fisheries, and sea urchin population management. The project will also engage stakeholders in co-designing optimal trade-off management scenarios, accounting for both human well-being and conservation goals.

EuroMarine: Have you published a peer-reviewed article, or any other form of scientific publication based on the research discussed in the Foresight Workshop? If so, could you provide some details about the publication and its impact on the field?

We are currently working on a "position paper" that encompasses the viewpoints of the consortium and emphasizes the need for nature-inclusive management in the context of Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management.

This manuscript is in progress, and we anticipate submitting it by the end of the year. The residual funds allocated during the workshop will be used to cover the publication fees. The tentative title of the manuscript is "Multi-species management of sea urchin fisheries between sustainable fishing and conservation: Necessity and potential in the Western Mediterranean Sea."

EuroMarine: Have you presented your research findings to policy makers or other stakeholders in the marine science community? If yes, how did the Foresight Workshop contribute to the development of your research into actionable insights for policy or decision-making?

Yes, as part of the Murfor project, we have engaged with regional stakeholders and local managers, including MPA directors in the study areas. We plan to co-design optimal trade-off management scenarios with a broad range of stakeholders, such as MPA managers, professional and recreational fishers, fishery associations, and local and regional administrators.

These interactions will involve various social science techniques, including individual interviews, focus groups, workshops, and roundtables. This collaborative approach will enable us to design fishery management and ecosystem sustainability scenarios that consider both human well-being and conservation objectives within the specific contexts investigated.

EuroMarine: Looking back, how would you assess the overall impact of the Foresight Workshop on your research and career? Did it open up new opportunities, enhance your visibility, or lead to further collaborations beyond the initial workshop?

The EuroMarine Foresight Workshop had a profound impact on my research career. It allowed us to transform our idea into a European Project. Now we have a real chance to do things.

EuroMarine: What advice or suggestions would you give to future Foresight Workshop leads in terms of maximizing the benefits and outcomes of the workshop?

It provided a platform for transforming our ideas into a European Project, creating real opportunities to make a difference. The workshop facilitated connections among individuals who had not previously met but who, after just one week of discussions, successfully secured funding for a European Project worth 1 million euros. Euromarine offers a unique opportunity to engage with pressing issues, provided you find the right people to collaborate with.