Meet the GENIALG Scientists: José M. Fariñas-Franco



José M. Fariñas-Franco

Where you are from (country) and where you are currently based (if different):

I am Spanish, currently based in Ireland working between the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT).

Academic background and research areas:

Marine ecologist and Lecturer in Applied Freshwater and Marine Biology at GMIT, studying the functioning and biodiversity of coastal ecosystems and their responses to anthropogenic impacts, especially biogenic habitats created by bivalves and seaweed, and approaches to habitat restoration. I am interested in sustainable management of wild marine resources and the potential of aquaculture as a nature-based solution to restoration.

Any advice you would give or a favourite quote:

We need to restore the abundance of sea life and give marine ecosystems a chance to repair themselves if the planet is to remain healthy” – Callum Roberts, The Unnatural History of the Sea.

Current research role, work and key results within GENIALG:  

I study the interactions of offshore seaweed cultivation with the marine environment and its benefits as a provider of ecosystem services to people.

Although there are a few desk-based studies that have reviewed the potential positive and negative environmental impacts of seaweed aquaculture, there are none that have collected scientific evidence from real-world case studies.

Within the GENIALG project, my work aimed to fill that evidence gap, by designing a monitoring program to identify and quantify, for the first time in Europe, the environmental footprint of seaweed farms to ensure a sustainable and environmentally responsible practice and future upscaling of operations. We sampled the seabed habitats to detect any potential impacts in its physical parameters, e.g., organic matter and granulometry, and biodiversity, finding no detectable changes that could be attributed to the seaweed farm. I also conducted over a hundred SCUBA dives to monitor these habitats and the fish and invertebrates that live amongst the cultivated seaweed, finding solid evidence of their role as lush, nursery habitats for many species, noticeably pollock, catsharks and skate.

While investigating the effects that seaweed cultivated on longlines might have on physical water parameters such as light, currents and water quality, we found that seaweed farms act as sediment traps, improving water clarity and facilitating light to penetrate the water column and reach benthic primary producers such as seagrass. Seaweed farms can also act as de-facto exclusion zones for boats fishing or anchoring, therefore providing protection for these sensitive habitats.

Seaweed fact:

Seaweeds are ecosystem engineers that modify their environments providing habitat and feeding opportunities to a wide array of marine organisms. Seaweed, including cultivated seaweed, can be considered as ‘keystone species’ due to their crucial role in sustaining marine ecosystems and biodiversity. They also provide us with ecosystem services, ameliorating coastal erosion, maintaining water quality and removing atmospheric carbon.

Funny story/incident from your GENIALG work:

I had planned to use a baited remote underwater camera to record fish near the seaweed farm for quite a while but never found the opportunity. This was up until I remembered I left a bag full of pollock in the university fridge for over two weeks. Feeling a bit embarrassed about wasting all these good fish, I thought this was my call into action and set up the camera using all that rotting fish as the bait. I have over two hours worth of footage and the only fish I recorded were catshark that as soon as they got close to the rotting bait turned around just as quickly as they came!

Email and/or social media links e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter etc:

Twitter: @DrJoseMFarinas

Partner twitter accounts: @nuigalway @ResearchatNUIG @GMITOfficial @GMIT_Research