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AQUARIUS will launch two robust and transparent transnational access funding calls, inviting research and innovation project proposals that convincingly demonstrate how they will integrate multiple infrastructures and contribute to the defined challenges (based on the core policy objectives of Mission ‘Restore our Ocean and Waters’).

Call 1 – Open: 11 November 2024 – 20 January 2025
Call 2 – Open: 2 September 2025 – 28 October 2025

Calls are open to scientists from research and academia, from industry, and from citizen science groups, according to the defined eligibility criteria.

The integration of these services reflects a critical need for a more holistic approach to support research and innovation towards achieving healthy, sustainable and protected oceans and waters.

Call themes and eligibility criteria

Scientific Challenges and goals for the Transnational Access Calls will be framed around the Infrastructures offered for access by AQUARIUS with a clear roadmap of how the outcomes of the funded projects should contribute to the implementation of the Mission ‘Restore our Ocean and Waters’.

  • Call 1 will have targeted themes for each of the Mission lighthouse regions, indicating the challenges to be addressed, for instance: Mediterranean: Prevent and eliminate pollution; Atlantic and Arctic Coasts: Protect and restore ecosystems and biodiversity (marine); Baltic and North Sea basin: Make the blue economy carbon-neutral etc.

  • Call 2 will be an ‘adapted’ and responsive Call, depending on the outcomes of the first Call. Whilst Call 1 will be strongly ‘topic-specific’, the second Call could focus on new emerging issues, include themes not adequately covered in Call 1 or reflect developments within the Mission Ocean.

Call design guidelines will outline objectives, topics, call eligibility criteria (in accordance with the European Charter for Access to Infrastructure), definition of the funding rules, dates and deadlines. The eligibility conditions for funding related to scientific challenges and the integration of research infrastructures will be assessed prior to completion by a selected expert panel, which will also advise on the criteria for the call design & development.

The call design process will include close dialogue with international scientific networks and the achievement of marine citizen-science initiatives to integrate different scientific fields, knowledge-generators and to take into account societal needs.

Application and evaluation procedure

Example use cases

Use Case Scenarios will be developed to provide examples of how ‘Super Integration Projects’ can be developed to implement multidisciplinary projects with maximum impact. Example scanarios, such at the one featured below will be developed during the project to inspire and guide applicants.

Target ‘Lighthouse’ region: Mediterranean, River Ebro.
Target research challenge: Prevent and eliminate pollution.

The Mediterranean Sea, is subject to acidification, enhanced eutrophication, and multiple forms of pollution (including emerging issues). According to a recent WWF report, the Mediterranean holds only 1 per cent of the world’s waters and 7 per cent of global microplastics14. The Mediterranean basin (coastal area) is home to 150 million people, who produce among the largest quantities of solid urban waste per capita, at 208-760 kg per year. Summer tourists visiting the Mediterranean generate a 40 per cent increase in marine litter. Debris is also carried to the sea by rivers, primarily the Nile, the Ebro, the Rhone, the Po, and the Ceyhan and Seyhan rivers in Turkey. Plastic pollution can impact key economic sectors in the Mediterranean, especially fisheries and tourism. Marine litter is estimated to cost the EU fishing fleet €61.7 million every year, due to reduction in fish catch, damage to vessels or reduced seafood demand due to concern about fish quality. Some alarming statistics include the fact that 134 species in the Mediterranean Sea (fish, sea turtles, mammals and seabirds) are victims of plastic ingestion, and plastics debris in the marine environment, includes resin pellets, fragments and microscopic plastic fragments, contain organic contaminants, such as pesticides, phthalates, PCBs and bisphenol A. Once plastic contaminants enter the body, they interfere with important biological processes, causing liver damage or altering hormones. Plankton is highly contaminated in the Pelagos Sanctuary of cetaceans (in the NorthWestern Mediterranean). Concentrations of phthalates found in the tissues of fin whales were up to 4-5 times higher than those of whales from areas with lower levels of contamination.

Applicant researchers to the AQUARIUS Calls may decide to focus on plastic pollution, or agricultural pollution (nutrients) and urban/industrial pollution (chemicals), as well other sources of pollution such as pharmaceuticals and noise. In this scenario, a potential dedicated TA service is the identification of relevant pollution sources from different environments (land, river, sea and air) and risk analysis in hot-spot areas, integrating and coupling satellite observations (detecting and visualising hot-spot area to be investigated on a large scale) with the in situ coastal observations (e.g. measurements along autonomous straight-line using gliders and/or drones to obtain a spatio-temporal map of homogenous variables also at multiple depths and/or elevations) and offshore observations (e.g. measurements from research vessels to study the gradient variance).

Consultation with existing networks, for instance the Union for Mediterranean, BlueMed initiative including Pilot for a healthy, plastic-free Mediterranean, UNEP-MAP (Barcelona Convention), PRIMA, Western Med sea basin strategy, Copernicus Black-Sea and Med Sea Ocean monitoring and forecasting centres will help to frame the Access Calls focused on the Mediterranean and associated rivers (see WP1, WP3). The AQUARIUS concept has also been informed by the draft Strategic Agenda for a climate-neutral, sustainable and productive blue economy also referred to as the Sustainable Blue Economy Partnership. It aims to achieve four general objectives: to align priorities and investments across Europe; to cooperate across socioeconomic sectors and scientific disciplines; provision of knowledge for a sustainable development of the blue economy; and transformation to a more digital knowledge-based climate-neutral and sustainable blue economy.