"These, more than any other, it is time to do research"

As montanhas do Perú
Interview with Claudia Caro Vera
Now finishing a PhD in Biosciences at Universidade de Coimbra, in the area of ​​Ecology, Claudia Caro Vera admits that it’s something she has loved since a child. She grew up in a small town in Peru, 3050 meters above sea level. There she used to contemplate water sources and rivers, and sometimes even caught frogs. And it was in communion with all that nature that she came up with the wish of keeping it just the way it is – natural. But the moment when she decided to dedicate herself to study of the environment was when, around seven or eight years old, she came across a polluted pond and saw dead fish surfaced. She asked her father what she could do to prevent this type of situations, and her father replied that she should study hard.

Society receives diverse ecosystem services from the sea: food, tourism, renewable energies or experiences. Can you explain us your study? Are there any results already?


I study services of coastal marine ecosystems based on the identification of habitats as areas providing multiple services. The case study, that has been developed under the guidance of Professor João Carlos Marques and Doctors Zara Teixeira and Rute Pinto in the Atlantic coastal region around the Mondego River, has 21 identified habitats.


Results? Yes. One of the most important was the development of a methodology for the identification of priority areas for research in ecosystem services. In the case of the Mondego estuary, the results identified the saltworks, the open sea, the beaches, and the marshes as the most important for the investigation.


Realizing the importance of cultural services, which is in line with the efforts of local authorities to develop more cultural and social activities in the region, was quite interesting. Habitats Risk Analysis. This was a methodology that surprised us. If on one hand it is possible to increase the resilience capacity of habitats with the increase in the number of ecosystem services, on the other hand it is possible to reduce resilience in cases where there are more ecosystem services of the Provision type (e.g. food production). This methodology proved to be robust, compared to others in the literature, and has the advantage of including a very important spatial component to support decision making, and to allow analysis of future scenarios.


In the particular case of Mondego, which included the estuary and the coastal zone, the methodology identified habitats present in the northern and southern arms of the estuary as having a bigger risk than habitats in the coastal zone, in particular marine meadows. When we tested the impact of different management scenarios, on marine grasslands and marshes, with regard to rising sea levels and the control of nitrogen levels in the estuary, we found that it’s still possible to reduce the risk that these habitats are subject.



Why is the mapping of coastal marine habitats important? Do you think the national strategy we have in Portugal is the right one?


It's very important. To manage an area, you must first identify where it is, their size and their characteristics. Is it an area that shares characteristics with other areas, or is it a unique area? Thus, maps, in addition to excellent communication tools (due to their ability to provide a lot of information) are management tools of great impact and easy to understand, even in different sectors of the population.


The National Strategy for the Sea (ENM 2013-2020) considers ecosystem services in the development model, which is important. There is still a lot of knowledge to be produced on this topic in order to have multiple local studies that can give a reliable overview of the country's situation, which will add a lot to the strategy, in such a way to guarantee the continuous delivery of the most important services in Portugal. As ENM reports, the integration of sectors, the promotion of research and the support of participation are important and for this reason, I think that an approach to the cultural services of ecosystems is essential to promote greater participation. This will make it possible to further improve the provision services that are provided through fisheries and aquaculture, part of the Strategy.


Healthy and productive oceans are synonymous of sustainable development, employment, well-being. Do you agree?


I agree, if we have a good provision of services it’s possible to have jobs and everything the population needs from the seas to survive. However, in order to achieve this provision, it’s important that ecosystems have the physical, chemical and biological structures - in quantity and quality - necessary to ensure the functioning of ecosystems and the consequent delivery of services that can be translated, among other things, in productivity.


What fascinates you the most in this world of science?


Discover new things, find questions and challenges that can improve living conditions, and that can be solved based on the collaboration and integration of different players.

Why MARE to do science?


Because when I was in Peru looking for a PhD program I found a paper of Rute Pinto and professor João Carlos Marques that focused on ecosystem services in a unique way, considering not only their monetary value but the inclusion of analyzes of biophysical structures on which services depend.




Multiple are the experiences you describe on your resume. Since consulting in the GEA - NGO Group, in the Ministry of the Environment, to the Paracas Bay Commission for Sustainable Development. Can you tell us a little about these experiences? Which one did you like the most?


In Peru I worked at the institution that is now the Ministry of the Environment, in the area of ​​Environmental Education and Information. I was responsible for training teachers in environmental education processes; however, another part of my job was to facilitate citizen participation in the recognition of environmental management indicators from different places in Peru. I also had the opportunity to work with fishermen and aquaculture on a commission in charge of the Paracas Bay Sustainable Development Plan. Then, my job was basically to facilitate public participation and listen to people's demands to help establish a community training plan that wanted to value the resources of the Bay, a marine area rich in resources, but that needed better management. Soon I started teaching Ecology classes at the university. In summary I can say that I liked all the experiences, because I feel good when I do science, but I also like to share the results with the citizens, to involve them in the decision-making processes, and to facilitate this process makes me feel that my research has a greater meaning.



What is the secret of the success? And what can't be missing in a good investigation?


Perseverance, but without being stubborn. We need to know how to listen the others, but I think we have to be persevering in our goals, knowing how to manage the other’s ideas to improve our ideas. To have a good investigation I think it is important to have a good motivation. The research question is also fundamental: What do I want to do? Why? What for?



Is the time we live the time of research? Marine Research?


Sure. These, more than any other, it is time to do research. We have to face the enormous challenges. Both Portugal and my country, Peru, being marine countries, need a lot of research in this area, not only because it is the 14th objective for sustainable development, proposed by the United Nations. I must recognize that Portugal has advanced a lot in this field, and I am happy with the experience of learning at MARE and being able to contribute to the knowledge produced here.


Can you tell us about your experience in Peru?


In Peru I liked to do research in the mountains at 3500 meters of altitude. The Andes have always been ecosystems that I love, the mountains attract me in a special way. I conducted research on plant succession and definition and participation in environmental indicators for the conservation of high Andean ecosystems. I taught ecology at the National Agrarian University  La Molina. I love to share what I learn, and I think teaching is one of the best ways to do it. So, when I started to work on my PhD with marine ecosystems, I found it interesting because it was like taking a trip from the mountains to the seas. As I heard in Portugal: “The beaches are born in the mountains”.


If you had to give readers an environmental advice, what would it be?


Learn to observe nature, to enjoy it and to value it, only that way will be possible to make nature our own experience. This is the first step towards its conservation.