COST Connect on Water Management, Ecosystems and the Blue Economy


From scarcity to resilience and growth

On 17-18 April, COST hosted a dynamic COST Connect event entitled “Innovations in Water Management, Ecosystems and the Blue Economy: From Scarcity to Resilience and Growth”.

The workshop brought together COST Action researchers, innovators and stakeholders from different sectors, including academia, industry, policy and civil society. By fostering multidisciplinary dialogue and collaboration, the event aimed to address the complex challenges posed by water scarcity and ecosystem degradation while promoting sustainable economic growth.

Why it matters

The event was not only a forum for discussion, but also a platform for catalysing action. By bringing together stakeholders with different expertise and perspectives, COST Connect sought to identify synergies between sectors, stimulate the exchange of innovative ideas and best practices to address water-related challenges and accelerate the transition to a sustainable and resilient future.

Shaping future policies and funding opportunities

Dr Ronald de Bruin, Director of the COST Association, welcomed the participants and stressed the importance of collaborative efforts in tackling water-related issues.

Carla Matias dos Santos, PT Counsellor for Research and Space, gave the opening address, underlining the importance of initiatives such as COST Connect in shaping future funding opportunities at the European level.

With about 30 COST Actions represented at the event, we zoom in on three of them working on three key topics: Marine Ecosystems, Water Scarcity and Blue Economy.

Exploring COST Actions at the event

The Action Unifying Approaches to Marine Connectivity for improved Resource Management for the Seas (SEA-UNICORN) is developing unified approaches to Marine Functional Connectivity (MFC). Functional connectivity, which tracks the movement of organisms, is key to understanding how ecosystems function and species evolve. Effective knowledge of MFC can improve predictions of environmental impacts and refine conservation strategies. SEA-UNICORN coordinates research from more than 50 European institutions, bringing together different approaches to MFC. By synthesising data, identifying gaps and promoting collaboration between scientists, policymakers and stakeholders, SEA-UNICORN integrates MFC knowledge into marine management and environmental policies, ultimately improving the management of marine resources and ecosystems.

The Action Conservation of freshwater mussels: a pan-European approach (CONFREMU) focuses on the conservation of freshwater mussel species across Europe, recognising their crucial role in maintaining aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity. Mussels provide important ecosystem services by filtering water as they feed, improving water quality and clarity.

Through international collaboration across scientific disciplines and the involvement of stakeholders and NGOs, the Action addressed the crisis of freshwater mussel biodiversity in Europe and developed evidence-based solutions to prevent further loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Sustainable use of salt-affected lands (SUSTAIN)  Action focuses on how plants respond to varying levels of soil salinity and other stresses. It aims to build a knowledge base to improve water, soil and crop management on salt-affected land. The Action aims to bring together the various parties involved in salt-affected agriculture and to highlight the importance of these areas and their potential contribution. The network foresees the development of targeted policies to effectively manage salinisation and integrate saline agriculture into the European food security agenda.

Voices from stakeholders

Willem De Moor, Deputy Director of JPI Oceans, presented the efforts of this collaborative platform in marine and maritime research. Launched in 2011, JPI Oceans fosters long-term collaboration between EU Member States and international partners to jointly address ocean challenges. With joint actions on topics such as sea level rise, blue carbon, changing marine lightscapes and ecological aspects of microplastics and munitions in the sea, JPI Oceans aims to promote sustainable marine solutions.

“The convergence of over 30 COST Action networks provided a unique forum to catalyse and foster synergies between researchers and policymakers. With key stakeholders from both freshwater and marine communities, it was a pleasure to discuss critical issues at the interface between land and sea”.

Willem De Moor, JPI Oceans
Photo of a young man in white shirt presenting slides.

Pedro Fontes, Board Member of AdP Group – Águas de Portugal, highlighted some of the challenges of innovation in water management and the need to “stimulate companies to innovate”. The AdP Group manages the entire urban water cycle, focusing on water collection, treatment, distribution and wastewater management. By engaging in renewable energy activities and promoting circular economy principles, the AdP Group contributes to Portugal’s environmental sustainability.

Esther Diez Cebollero presented the efforts of the Water4all Partnership to achieve universal water security. Co-funded by the EU, this partnership brings together academia, research funders and water management authorities to enhance collaboration in water research and innovation. With a focus on providing tools, sharing knowledge and promoting participatory development, Water4All aims to address water challenges comprehensively.

“Water is limited and we must develop new strategies to secure water for all”

Esther Diez Cebollero, Water4All Partnership

Durk Krol, Executive Director of Water Europe, shed light on the activities of Water Europe and its role in addressing water challenges. Formerly known as the Water Supply and Sanitation Technology Platform (WssTP), Water Europe’s mission is to be the leading advocate and catalyst for water-related innovation, research and technology development in Europe. With a holistic approach to the entire water value chain, Water Europe is committed to creating a water-secure, sustainable and resilient Water-Smart Society across Europe and globally. “It’s about ensuring that water in our society is climate change proof,” said Durk Krol, “Our position has to be very ambitious, but we should try to be as pragmatic as possible in its implementation”.

Moving forward

As the event concluded, participants left with a renewed commitment to collaborative action. The insights gained and connections established at COST Connect will continue to drive efforts towards a more sustainable, resilient, and prosperous future for all.

“The aim of this COST Connect event on water was not to find answers but to explore challenges and possible solutions. I have identified two promising areas for further consideration: bridging the gap between science and society, as science must involve the communities directly affected by its impact. This makes a strong case for involving different stakeholders in the process”.

Cristoforos Pavlakis, COST Connect participant, member of several Actions and community organiser

Learn more about some of these networks in their respective videos:

Additional information