Citizens Science

Ellisolandia Project: A long term monitoring project for Students and Citizens

Why a citizens science project?

The threat of Climate Changes, the vulnerability of Mediterranean basin, the beauty and wilderness of Italian MPAs and their rich biodiversity, the paucity of money (and especially consciousness) for their conservation, make ‘sustainable actions’ key points for making citizen aware about the beauty and the threat. Trainings for (future) experts and dedicated ‘research’ programme to citizens are important tools for increase the knowledge, the consciousness and to collect data and carry out long term monitoring projects in Italian MPAs. The overall message is that to make people aware and sensible to the conservation (marine) biodiversity it is not a merely action to the Nature but it is the only way to preserve ecosystems which provide services for human well-being and economic wealth (Fisher at al. 2009)). The the idea ‘behind the science’ is to to offer opportunities and ‘tools’ to citizens to know and understand the marine environment, but also ‘using science’ to encourage cooperation among scientists, citizens and local authorities (Regional Parks, MPAs) to monitor and develop ‘best-practices’ in Conservation Biology.

Why Ellisolandia? Ellisolandia elongata Ellis & Solander (1786) is an intertidal coralline algae with flexible pinnate fronds 5-7 cm long composed of calcified (intergenicula) and non-calcified parts of the thallus (genicula)(Babbini and Bressan 1997)(Figure 1). E. elongata is one of the most abundant corallinae algae in the Mediterranean Sea with a wide distribution from the North-West (from southern-coast of the Spain to Greece) to the South-East Mediterranean Sea (from Lebanon to Algeria)(Bressan and Babbini 2003). Being one of the most important bioconstructor of the Mediterranean intertidal fringe, it builds biogenic structures (‘bourrelet’ or ‘corniche’) which promote marine biodiversity (Figure 1). Being present in transitional environments such as tidal pools, it has to cope with rapid pCO2 and salinity fluctuations (Morris and Taylor 1983). Even if some species can be potentially resilient, coralline algae have general characteristics that make them potentially vulnerable to climate changes, such as the mineralogical composition of their thalli (high Mg-calcite (HMC)), the most soluble CaCO3 polymorph. This feature makes coralline algae highly susceptible to temperature (the substitution of Mg in calcite is endothermic, and therefore is facilitated at high temperatures) and to the saturation state of the seawater with respect to calcium carbonate polymorphs (Porzio et al. 2011) and thus makes them a model organism in climate change studies (Kamenos et al. 2008, Noisette et al. 2013).

The Project: Ellisolandia elongata monitoring project on Palmaria Island (Natural Regional Park of Porto Venere, La Spezia, I) (Figure 2) started in 2011 with a bachelor thesis of the University of Pisa, Environmental Research Centre ENEA and Association For-Mare ( which aimed to map the distribution and abundance (cover %) of some intertidal Corallinales. The study revealed the presence of 4 genera: Ellisolandia, Amphiroa, Jania and Lithophyllum along the Palmaria Island coast with Ellisolandia as the most abundant (Figure 3). In May 2013, 2014 and 2015 students from the University of Pavia (Didactic Laboratory in Applied Marine Ecology) contributed by collecting the data on distribution and abundance in two selected sites of the island (Pozzale and Secco)(Figure 4). In addition, in September 2014, students from the international course ‘Effects of ocean acidification and global warming on selected Mediterranean marine organisms (polychaetes and coralline algae) – in situ and laboratory studies for monitoring Future Oceans’ allowed to make comparison between the abundances of E. elongata in the same sites at the beginning and end of summer 2014, to compare ‘exposed vs non-exposed sites’ and also perform some morphological investigations (length and width of the fronds and number of fronds/cm2)(for details see: For-Mare technical report on the Association web-site).

Methods: Data on abundance and distribution of Ellisolandia elongata are collected by snorkeling at least in two sites of Palmaria Island (Pozzale and Secco) every year at the end of May-beginning of June. Within each site, 5 transects (10 mt each) positioned on the intertidal fringe are investigated by using three replicated quadrats (50×50 cm), divided into 25 sub-squares (10×10 cm) (Fig. 1). Within each sub-square, the presence and abundance of dominant category (Ellisolandia elongata (E), Mytilus sp. (M), encrusting algae (En), barnacles (B), erected algae (Er) and rock (R)) are counted and reported on a plastic slide previously organized. Once on land, all data are transferred on paper-sheet, including also volunteer personal data and habitat description.

Where do data go? All the collected data are recorder in a dedicated Data base and elaborated by Association For-Mare, in collaboration with ENEA. Data are available for the Natural Regional Park of Porto Venere published via ENEA Technical Report, and they represent the base for scientific research project conducted by MedClimaLizer Lab.


Figure 1. ‘Bourrelet’ or “corniche” of Ellisolandia elongata and Lithophyllum byssoides on intertidal zone of West Palmaria Island. Sampling square (50×50 cm). 


Figure 2. Palmaria Island and sampling sites (1 to 16 bachalor thesis of the University of Pisa (2011), 6-9 Didactic Laboratory in Applied Marine Ecology (2013-2014-2015) University of Pavia and 6-9-17 international course (2014) “Effects of ocean acidification and global warming on selected Mediterranean marine organisms (polychaetes and coralline algae) – in situ and laboratory studies for monitoring Future Oceans” (From RT-Enea Attività 2013-2015).


Figure 3. Cover rates (%) in each sites (1-6 North, 7-11 East, 12-16 West coast) of four genera of Corallinales (Ellisolandia, Amphiroa, Jania and Lithophyllum) and the nude substratum during the 2011-2012 monitoring (From RT-Enea Attività 2013-2015).


Figure 4. Cover rates (%) in two sites (Secco on the North coast and Pozzale on the East cost) of each categories (Ellisolandia elongata, Mytilus sp., Encrusting alage, Barnacles, Erected algae and Nude substratum) in 2013-2014-2015 monitoring. These dates were collected by italian students of the University of Pavia and by international students of the MARES course “Effects of ocean acidification and global warming on Mediterranean selected marine organisms (polychaetes and coralline algae) – in situ and laboratory studies for monitoring Future Oceans” (From RT-Enea Attività 2013-2015).