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Blancpain partners project examining effect of covid on Mediterranean marine life

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The marine economy is among the worst-affected sectors by this year’s pandemic, but ocean environments and ecosystems may have benefited from the sharp reduction in activity.

Blancpain is helping marine research organisation Gombessa expeditions fund a new mission by underwater biologist and photographer Laurent Ballesta that aims to find out the impact on marine life of human activities being suspended due to covid-19.

Financed in part by the proceeds from the sale of Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms BOC III limited edition watches, the project follows on from the Gombessa V expedition that took place in July 2019 off the French Mediterranean coast.

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Biodiversity is thought to be improving due to the lack of activity so Laurent Ballesta and Andromède Océanologie, with Blancpain’s support, conducted a scientific mission last spring and summer to monitor the marine biodiversity of the Mediterranean coast during covid lock downs.

That study is part of an overall two-year project that will eventually make possible to list and analyse the reference state of biodiversity in the coastal waters of the French Mediterranean.

Spring 2020 provided exceptional conditions for studying marine biodiversity due to the lock down that dramatically reduced tourism, sport and fishing on the French Mediterranean costs.

Mr Ballesta and Andromède Océanologie took advantage of this situation to establish reference indicators on anthropised sites (ports and other key points), marine protected areas and the mesophotic zone (50-100 metres) thanks to environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling and bioacoustic measurements.

The values of these indicators will be compared with those obtained in 2018 and 2019, when eDNA monitoring of the Mediterranean coast was carried out, notably as part of the Gombessa V scientific expedition.

During the few weeks of the expedition, Mr Ballesta saw species he had rarely seen in the past including picarel nest fields, cell-shaped constructions made in the sand by these small Mediterranean fish; as well as the angel shark, an animal halfway between shark and ray, of which traces have been picked up again in Corsica after it disappeared from French Mediterranean coastlines.

The current initiative is part of the Gombessa expeditions that Blancpain has been supporting since 2012.

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