On November 16, 1994 the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea established a new legal framework to legislate the marine environment, came into force. When Portugal ratified it one year later, it assumed greater rights to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the European Union but also important responsibilities to protect biodiversity and marine resources.
Although Portugal has the largest number of North Atlantic seamounts, only three are included in the Natura 2000: Banco D. João de Castro, Menez Gwen and Lucky Strike, all located around the Azores. In fact, currently only 0.10% of the Portuguese sea surface is part of this network of protected areas. This means that although it has the greatest potential of the EU marine conservation, Portugal is the tail of European countries in protected areas.
The Gorringe, the biggest European seamount
The biggest European seamount, the Gorringe, is located in the Portuguese EEZ, about 250 km southwest of Cape St. Vincent. The base of the seamount sits at a depth of -5000 meters and the summit is just 30 meters from the surface. As such, a most diverse ecosystem can be found along its slopes. In 2005, Oceana documented the Gorringe Bank, through photographs and underwater video, and found both species from the Atlantic and species native to the Mediterranean. Then, last August, in collaboration with Portuguese scientists, we returned to this seamount and identified more than 100 marine species.
Now our goal is to provide new scientific information about previously unexplored areas to the Portuguese government so as to be able to identify those important species and habitats that should be protected to comply with European law and the various international commitments acquired by Portugal.