Oceanic island ecosystems are biodiversity hotspots that are highly sensitive to human disturbances and climate change. Since 2015, we have been studying the consequences of numerous human pressures, bioinvasions and climate-related changes to Madeira’s coastal ecosystems. This accumulated knowledge has put us in a strong position to understand some of the greatest threats currently facing our oceans and planet.
We are in an exciting phase of expansion to study inland waterways and the deep seas around Madeira. This is giving us a fuller picture of the biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics of the island, which is important for understanding and protecting these habitats and the many marine species that visit through the year. These include sperm whales, monk seals and European eels – all endangered and keystone species, with vital roles in maintaining a healthy ocean.
Our foray into deeper waters around Madeira is also important for understanding carbon cycles. The Twilight Zone is home to phytoplankton that play a critical role in carbon capture and are, alongside deep-diving whales, part of a complex food-web that links marine life at the surface with the carbon storage of the deep. Our ability to observe, monitor and test our scientific understanding of so many oceanic zones will be important for combating two of the world’s greatest threats: climate change and biodiversity loss.
Photo credits: eel study by Cristiano Vieira; scuba diver by João Monteiro