EcoChange Conference 2017: Food Webs, Climate Change and Politics



This week, Linneaus University hosted its Umeå University colleagues for lively exchange of ideas at the EoChange 2017 conference in Kalmar. The conference, led at the Kalmar Harbour campus by Catherine Legrand (vice-coordinator) and Agneta Andersson (scientific coordinator), welcomed presenters of research from both Linnaeus and Umeå Universities, as well as from the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) and the South Baltic River Basin District.

EcoChange is a collaborative program that tackles the great threat of climate change and its menacing consequences to the Baltic Sea, such as eutrophication and overfishing, through intricate marine research, such as its microbial food web efficiency. For it is the research and discovery of the microscopic marine environment that can battle such giants as climate change – a true David and Goliath scenario of the modern world.

The conference began with Scientific Coordinator Agneta Andersson laying out the work of EcoChange, and its goals for the future, including collaboration within the program, international expansion, and outreach to make research known to the general public and to politicians who can help to implement change.

IMG_0627Irene Bohman, a commission representative from the South Baltic River Basin District outlined the water-based challenges for the Southern Baltic district, an area covering 91 municipalities and 2.2 million people. Problems for the area include eutrophication and water shortage, especially for areas of high-tourism, such as Öland. And, as the EcoChange researchers half-jokingly conferred, ”too many people and too many cows.” Bohman laid out some examples for facing the challenges, such as attaching value to the water, such as the enormous cost of transporting large amounts of drinking water across the Öland Bridge to Mörbylånga during one particularly dry summer in 2016. Local politicians and residents alike should be made aware of these challenges in order to make legislative changes for both water conservation and cleaning.

The conference guests were then treated to presentations by Drs. Erik Björn and Jenny Ask, both of Umeå University. Björn, whose research in increasing methylmercury levels in connection with climate change has reached the attention of such popular outlets as the BBC, lectured on the formation of the highly toxic methylmercury in the aquatic system. Dr. Ask brought us into the Öre Estuary of Northern Sweden, during which she discussed her extensive research into the connection between benthic and pelagic habitats.


Day 1 of the EcoChange Conference featured no shortage of interesting research presentation, which included digital poster presentations by Dr. Elin Lindehoff of her work in collaboration with SYKE to study toxic dinoflagellates and PhD student Emil Fridolfsson and his work in thiamine transfer in the food web.


Perhaps one of the more provocative debates of the day came when Dr. Legrand posed the question: “If you had the power to change one thing about the management of the Baltic Sea, what would it be?” Ideas from professors varied, and were often connected inextricably to their research themes. Per Larsson, resident fish expert and pike enthusiast answered without hesitation: “I would stop trawling in the Baltic Sea.” HELCOM secretary Ulla Li Zweifel agreed with Larsson on the trawling, and added a plea for eutrophication management. Other suggestions came in the form of proper wastewater treatment flowing into the Baltic Sea, as well as a profound need for excess nutrient uptake.

ALGOLAND Green Wall Panel
The ALGOLAND Wall Panel 

And with the mention of nutrient uptake – perhaps one of the most exciting moments of the day for some LNU participants when all conference participants were treated to a “sneak preview” at a new film produced specifically for the promotion of ALGOLAND, Catherine Legrand’s major pilot project that uses algae to clean CO2 from flue gas created by a cement plant on Öland, cleans excess nutrients from leachate water in Moskogen, and explores how blue mussels can be used to treat eutrophication in the Baltic Sea. The project, ever increasing in size and scope, is a stamp of sustainability unlike any other in the region, and was bestowed with the Sweden Impact Award 2017.

After a full day of introductions, sustainability discussions, study presentations, conference participants enjoyed a tour of Kalmar Läns Museum and a dinner at local Kalmar restaurant hotspot, Magasinet!


Day 2 of the EcoChange Conference welcomed HELCOM secretary Ulla Li Zweifel to discuss the monitoring and assessment done of different areas in the Baltic Sea, and the specific indicators used to measure those assessments. These indicators can theoretically be used to persuade policy changes in different Baltic countries, though there was some dispute among researchers at the conference as to the effectiveness of policy implementation. The Baltic Sea Action Plan urges that steps be taken in the governments of Baltic countries, though often economic incentives are necessary.

Collage scholars.jpg

Our Day 2 digital presenters: Mireia Bertos-Fortis on increasing cyanobacterial blooms, Aleksandra Skrobonja on pelagic food web structure on Baltic web properties, Terry Bidleman on Halogenated Natural Products (HNPs) in the marine environment, and Juanjo Rodriguez on PCO2 and terrestrial organic matter.

Later presentations then went up the (literal) food web chain, with Dr. Agneta Andersson discussing current research at Umeå on food web efficiency with climate change as an impacting factor. Zooplankton-focused researcher Dr. Samuel Hylander then discussed deficiency syndromes in top predators as associated with large scale changes in the aquatic environment, and finally, Dr. Larsson gave a demonstrably convincing argument as to the desperate need to end trawling in the Baltic Sea – an industry with low-economic profit and disastrous impairment to the Baltic food web.

The conference ended with a greater understanding of the remarkable research being performed by seasoned professors and excellent young minds at both universities, a network of collaborative possibilities, and the inspiration for better outreach and greater change in the political realm. We look forward to 2018 and beyond with a broad scope for food webs, climate change, and the future of the Baltic Sea.

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