The MONICOAST project: A Sea of Opportunities for Pioneering startups and scientists

Mussel reefs are among the habitats being monitored by MONICOAST. 

Mussel reefs are among the habitats being monitored by MONICOAST. 

Startups must overcome a mountain of challenges in order to thrive, from balancing the books, to marketing and product validation: competition is tough. So it is particularly noteworthy that DROPP, a startup company from Finland offering sustainably-sourced spring water, has pledged all of its profits in support of Baltic Sea research and protection.

Through an ongoing collaboration with scientists at Tvärminne Zoological Station, University of Helsinki, DROPP has given flight to a coastal observatory project called MONICOAST. This project started last year and provides the methods and means to monitor coastal marine environments using a network of smart oceanographic sensors. When placed on the seabed, these robust, self-cleaning sensors measure a host of environmental parameters and transmit data in real-time over a mobile data network. Scientists can then pour over the data as it flows in to dissect and analyse this new information.

Our coasts are a hub for society and commerce, and harbour much of our valued biodiversity. Nevertheless, while we have pretty good information and monitoring data about what happens in the water column out in the open Baltic Sea, there is almost no monitoring information available for very shallow, near-shore areas such as seagrass meadows, bladder wrack belts and mussel reefs. These areas are key habitats (i.e. living environments) for a wide range of organisms, for example as spawning areas for fish. Yet we lack information on the magnitude and variability of critical parameters such as water temperature, salinity, pH and oxygen content, information that is required to better understand and conserve coastal systems.

A MONICOAST sensor sonde deployed in a seagrass meadow. The sonde measures water properties every 15 minutes and sends data wirelessly to scientists at the Tvärminne Zoological Station. Image: Alf Norkko. 

A MONICOAST sensor sonde deployed in a seagrass meadow. The sonde measures water properties every 15 minutes and sends data wirelessly to scientists at the Tvärminne Zoological Station. Image: Alf Norkko. 

MONICOAST can narrow this knowledge gap. The sensors make measurements every 15 minutes and one year into the project, the measurements already have revealed dynamics previously unbeknownst to scientists. Measurements have shown, for instance, that coastal waters around Tvärminne experience frequent and large changes in water temperature and oxygen content, possibly due to upwelling of deep offshore waters. These changes are expected to affect the entire coastal ecosystem, and we are now using this information in synergy with other ongoing research projects at Tvärminne Zoological Station to investigate its implications in detail. Thus MONICOAST also provides high-quality background data for future research projects.

Data from the MONICOAST sensors show interesting variations in temperature and oxygen content in waters around Tvärminne (here an example from September 2016). This data raises new questions on how ecosystems function and respond to change.

Data from the MONICOAST sensors show interesting variations in temperature and oxygen content in waters around Tvärminne (here an example from September 2016). This data raises new questions on how ecosystems function and respond to change.

The MONICOAST coastal observatory is now concentrated in the area around Tvärminne on the Hanko peninsula, but with the help of new collaborators and sponsors, the objective is to expand the MONICOAST network of loggers to even more types of habitats and to an even larger stretch of the Finnish coastline.

A major objective of the project is also to convey the importance of these habitats to the general public and to raise awareness about the need to protect the Baltic Sea. This summer, a public internet portal will be launched, where anyone can check the data being transmitted from the loggers and also learn more about the species and habitats in the Baltic Sea. Stay tuned!

Karl Attard and Joanna Norkko

 

Karl Attard is a scientist at Tvärminne Zoological Station, and he shares his time between Tvärminne and the University of Southern Denmark. Karl is originally from Malta.

Joanna Norkko is the research coordinator at Tvärminne Zoological Station.