Environmental impact of biomass loss from an established offshore mussel farming region in Southern Portugal

Internship position (12 ECTS)
Shelled molluscs, such as the Blue Mussel (Mytilus edulis complex), are of growing commercial importance across Europe (Bostock et al., 2016; EC, 2015). They represent a highly sustainable food source (Godfray et al., 2010). This is important in a period where there is a need for low impact, low energy, low water use, and proteinaceous alternatives to our currently unsustainable livestock and crop industries (Herrero et al., 2016). Technological and scientific advancements present new opportunities for expanding the production of shelled mollusc species in Europe (EC, 2015). One such advance is the offshore growth of blue mussels. Traditionally, such species are farmed in sheltered onshore regions. Southern Portugal is one area where offshore mussel production (Mytilus galloprovincialis) has become prevalent in recent years. The proliferation of sustainable aquaculture practices has many benefits: economically, socially, and environmentally. Still, as an emerging sector, it is important to assess and understand the potential environmental impacts of these practices, both positive and negative. As highlighted in the case of offshore fish farms (Holmer, 2010), and with even less known about offshore mollusc farms, there are many considerations and potential impacts associated with this type of production. In conjunction with the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Brussels), and the EU-funded Marie Curie CACHE network (www.cache-itn.eu), the prospective student will be hosted at the Centre of Marine Science (CCMAR), University of Algarve (Faro). The project will assess the potential impact of biomass loss from an established offshore mussel farming region in Southern Portugal (Olhão). The farms are located approximately 1 km offshore from the Ria Formosa lagoon: an economically important region due to tourism associated with the natural park, and also in terms of seafood and salt production. There are suggestions that since offshore production began, there may have been an increase in recruitment and the promotion of potentially new populations of blue mussels in the Ria Formosa lagoon area. The student will survey the Ria Formosa for mussel settlement sites. Various sites will then be chosen in relation to known physical and biogeochemical parameters. Samples from sites of interest will be used in a population genetics study to determine the connectivity of the various locations and their potential relationship to offshore mussel production versus established natural populations outside the Ria Formosa. In addition, simple population dynamics metrics could be used to estimate the size-class structure, and thus recruitment load at each sample site, complementing the genetic data collected.
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Reference Number: RP-48661