The iMarine initiative, which has received funding from the European Union as part of its 7th Framework Programme, has successfully combined the expertise of computing science and fisheries data management, biology and ecology to develop a powerful infrastructure designed to support the ecosystem approach to fisheries management and the conservation of living marine resources.
Over 50 managers, policy-makers and scientists from the fisheries and biodiversity domains and from 17 countries recently gathered in Rome to explore potential roles in the iMarine partnership model to sustain collaborative e-Science in the field of fisheries and new funding opportunities to address societal challenges under the European Union’s new funding programme, Horizon 2020.
The European Commission has invested in e-infrastructures as key enablers of research across many different scientific disciplines. As a data e-infrastructure, iMarine enables seamless access to data workflows and computing capacity, which not only accelerates time to insight but also facilitates policy decision making through the generation of improved knowledge.
“iMarine has attracted an international community, including experts from different fields keen to support the ecosystem approach”, said Donatella Castelli, National Research Council, Italy and Scientific Director of iMarine. She added, “We encourage new stakeholders at the workshop, including the data providers present, to stay engaged to support this goal, and also help shape future directions for iMarine”.
The sustainable management of fisheries and marine living resources is a societal challenge of global dimensions. No single institution or country can tackle this challenge alone. For the common good, it is very important to move away from privately held data-frameworks, to collaborative work-flows based on the latest state-of-the-art computing technologies.
This is where iMarine comes into play with its value-add tools and services. Connecting hundreds of users of scientific data through virtual environments is just one of several ways in which iMarine delivers value add and can continue to support the ecosystem approach.
Another key challenge that emerged from the iMarine workshop is the need for global efforts, noticeably by the fishery community, to elaborate and publish international metadata standards which will eventually enable interoperability and ability to efficiently share data on an international level.
Standardisation efforts need to focus on harmonisation of semantics, and to consider the entire process and data workflow from the data collection phase (e.g. scientific observers on board fishing vessels), through to regional databases used for joint analysis in support to stock assessments and fishery management, and the production of a dashboard of indicators that support decision making and reporting.
Addressing global societal challenges is one of the three pillars of Horizon 2020. Marco Weydert, European Commission, DG Research explained how the Blue Growth Focus Area in Horizon 2020 will focus on challenges of marine research and monitoring for a sustainable blue economy. The significance of this new action was echoed by Indroyono Soesilo - FAO FI, Director of Resources Use and Conservation Division (FIR), in that FAO sees it as a way to achieve long-term sustainability goals: “FAO is currently developing a Global Blue Growth initiative for the sustainable management and conservation of living aquatic resources in the marine and fresh water ecosystems, as well as in coastal and inland ecosystems, with the aim of supporting food and nutrition security and poverty alleviation”, said Soesilo. “There is a high demand for data management solutions to effectively support the sustainable use of aquatic resources and habitats preservation that no organisation in isolation is able to satisfy”, he added. He encouraged workshop participants to reflect on a proposal for a global partnership/alliance aimed at forging a “Global Blue Growth Data Framework (GBGF)”. In his view, the iMarine data infrastructure with its seamless access to diverse types of relevant data, web-services, data processing tools, and related expertise is very well suited to supporting such a data framework.
The workshop marked an important step towards defining the iMarine sustainability plan, starting with a set of presentations showcasing how iMarine offer solutions to statistical data managers, biologists, marine ecologists, or owners of Regional fishery portals who need to facilitate access to data managed in different source systems. These presentations offered a springboard for an interactive discussion, helping to build consensus on the value of the iMarine data infrastructure to the user community. It also offered an opportunity to explore new ways in which iMarine can continue to support the ecosystem approach, be that through the support of large-scale public initiatives or individual scientists and small departments.
"If those involved appreciate the high value of the services offered by iMarine, a big challenge remains that of the platform sustainability. Our baseline goal is to ensure that the services will remain in operation at the end of the project, and our ambition is to identify the business plan which will allow the platform to grow and to serve increasing needs for evidence-based policy making”, concluded Marc Taconet, Chief Fisheries Statistics and Information Branch (FIPS), FAO-FI.