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Ecochange supports sea and water management

Image: Marlene Johansson

Published: 2020-07-03

FEATURE How does climate change affect the Baltic Sea’s ecosystem, and how should this be handled in relation to other impacts? Elisabeth Sahlsten, in her role as senior analyst at the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, struggles with these questions.

Text: Kristina Viklund

Elisabeth Sahlsten is a member of the EcoChange reference group, and has participated in a number of the research program's conferences.

"It is very rewarding to learn about the latest research findings from EcoChange, and to also have the opportunity to discuss the results from a management perspective," says Elisabeth.

Microbial food web

In particular, she wishes to highlight the part of the research that deals with the microbial food web, and how it may be affected by a changing climate.

“It is very important to understand the basic processes going on there, which can then have effects in higher parts of the food web. I really appreciate that the research focuses on the microbial processes, which are the basis for the circulation of nutrition and energy within the ecosystem. For example, research within EcoChange has clearly shown how the finely tuned balance between bacteria and phytoplankton is disturbed in a changing climate, and how it then affects all levels up to fish.”

The path of hazardous substances in the food web

Another area of research that concerns Elisabeth is hazardous substances, and how these end up in the different parts of the food web.

“The links between hazardous substances and the food web are extremely important to understand to be able to implement measures and manage our seas well. The studies done within Ecochange in which chemistry and biology are linked together, and where you can now follow the path of various hazardous substances into the food web and further on, I see as central.”

Future challenges

Marine and water management faces major challenges, and Elisabeth points to some areas where even more action is needed. One of these areas is multiple stressors, that is, the effect of different environmental problems simultaneously affecting marine life.

Exploitation of coastal areas is another challenge that requires strong management, and something that concerns Elisabeth. Exploitation is increasing, and shallow coastal environments that are important for the ecosystem are under threat. More research is needed that shows the importance of protecting these areas and the risk of exploitation.

Important method development

But it's not all about gaining more knowledge about how the ecosystem works. Elisabeth is careful to also emphasize the important role of research in developing new monitoring methods.

“Here, research has a very important role in developing methods that can facilitate environmental monitoring and make it even more efficient. We need methodology to be able to investigate the complicated processes in the ecosystem and how they are affected by environmental disturbances."

Continued cooperation

Marine and water management faces major challenges, and needs a great deal of support from research to monitor, protect, and manage in the right ways. This is where research programs like EcoChange come in, and Elisabeth looks forward to continued cooperation.

“Marine and water management needs the research to get a complete picture of the situation. We hope that EcoChange will continue to produce important research on our marine environment, and that we will continue to be able to share results and participate in discussions on the application of these results within marine and water management authorities.

This article was earlier published in the 2019 annual EcoChange report, and is based on an interview with Elisabeth Sahlsten from February 2020.