Papadopoulou N., Mangialajo L. & Hannachi A.


Departing from Marrakesh, February 2020, after our 1st AFRIMED Annual meeting, our minds and calendars were full of beautiful ideas to develop further, contacts to pursue, conferences and events to attend (especially SER and EMD/EASME symposia), lab experiments to do and many restoration field actions to perform in 6 countries at multiple restoration sites. We were focused on the health of our donor populations in the field and of our lab specimens. But the COVID pandemic has put a completely different and sharp focus on health; this time on our own health and the way we interact with nature and everything else we had taken for granted. As Amel from Tunisia says ‘at the beginning of the COVID crisis we were able to do some work, respecting the new health and safety protocols given by the national government and visit our sampling sites under government authorization’.

But then suddenly … we were all in lockdown; Ina from Albania, Amel from Tunisia and Brahim from Morocco had to see all their lab and fieldwork stopped while also facing new challenges in purchases of equipment for laboratory set-ups. Emma from Spain had to  cancel the much anticipated AFRIMED summer training course ‘Restoration of Cystoseira forest: a practical perspective’ originally planned for April in beautiful Menorca (with 23 participants from 6 countries) and many of their field activities. Simonetta and Silvia and their teams in Italy were also unable to reach their sites for months (due to early strict

lockdowns) but managed to restart AFRIMED field work in May implementing new safety protocols. Around the same time, Sotiris in Greece, Luisa in France, and teams in Italy and Spain also started their phenological monitoring while planning lab experiments to study thermal and pollution thresholds of several Cystoseira species.

Teams in France had to face beach closures in their known sites and, taking the challenge head on, they explored new areas where they found species that were supposed to be lost. As most Cystoseira species reproduce in March-May, they were really worried about getting fertile receptacles on time. Luckily one of the two targeted species was still in reproduction and they were able to perform two small pilot experiments on the factors that may affect Cystoseira restoration, one in the field and one in the laboratory.

Valuable lessons were learnt through this experience. Science and scientists can carry on with enthusiasm and positivity, taking advantage of what we have, and thinking of short-term out-of-the-box solutions, while being hopeful and thankful for the AFRIMED project extension that gives us all an opportunity to fulfill our restorative potential.  Thanks to the COVID lockdown we realised how precious is every little freedom we have and, in the words of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, how important is ‘bringing nature back to our lifes’. Restoring nature is at the forefront of the new EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and AFRIMED is part of this renewed ambitious commitment to restoration.

Recent research shows that contact with nature and blue and green spaces has helped people cope better with lockdown restrictions. As these continue, we share photos of our activities and our optimism for the future. And being part of ‘making nature healthy again’ for the benefit of people, climate and the planet.