Artificial algae protect from the acidification of the ocean

A team of Italian researchers developed plastic structures simulating coraline algae and placed them near real reefs in northwestern Italy. There they will protect microorganisms from the acidification of the ocean.

In the Mediterranean Sea, now “grow” tiny artificial algae – “protectors” of nature, which help coral reefs to recover. They look like coralline algae and have a similar function – they form reefs.

“Coral algae are especially important for shallow places with a temperate climate,” says researcher Federica Ragazzola of the Public University in Portsmouth (UK). “They are some kind of” ecosystem engineers “who provide a habitat for numerous marine species.”

However, the reefs that create coralline algae consist of a soluble form of calcium carbonate, so they are extremely vulnerable to acidification of the ocean.

Federica Ragazzola, together with researchers from the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA), decided to find out whether artificial algae can protect organisms living in reefs from ocean acidification and become a “platform” for the natural growth of real coralline algae.

The team developed small plastic structures simulating coralline algae Ellisolandia elongata. They produced 90 synthetic mini-reefs, each containing 20 sheets of highly elastic material, known as silicone elastomer. According to the marine biologist, this material was selected, in particular, because it is non-toxic to the marine environment. Then the plastic structures were placed near the reefs of coralline algae in the north-west of Italy.

A month later, the researchers found that on some artificial reefs, biofilms have already formed – thin layers of viscous fluid that contain bacteria and microalgae. This prompted biologists to think that marine organisms began to colonize artificial algae.

As suggested by Federica Ragazzola and her colleagues, a year later some marine species can “live” artificial reefs. If this happens, then biologists will have a new effective way to protect small organisms from the acidification of the ocean. And as water becomes more acidic, artificial algae will gradually dissolve and increase the pH level inside the reef while continuing to protect marine organisms, the biologist explains.

The team of researchers plans to take samples of artificial reefs and marine organisms that survived them in 11 months. Biologists will try to test how they will behave in the climate of 2100, predicted by members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

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