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June 10, 2016

Preserving deep-sea habitats in the Mediterranean

BY: Pilar Marín


Black coral garden (Leiopathes glaberrima)
*** Local Caption *** Black coral (Leiopathes glaberrima), longspine snipefish (Macroramphosus scolopax) and swallowtail seaperchs (Anthias anthias). Seco de los Olivos, Almería, Spain. Oceana Ranger Expedition 2011: Heading towards Seamounts. July 2011. Coral negro (Leiopathes glaberrima), trompetero (Macroramphosus scolopax) y peces tres colas (Anthias anthias). Seco de los Olivos, Almería, España. Expedición Oceana Ranger 2011: Rumbo a las montañas y cañones submarinos. Julio 2011.


What an amazing week!

Last week , FAO’s General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) held their annual meeting, and the outcomes include major victories for the preservation of this troubled sea. Two proposals tabled by Oceana were endorsed: management measures for fish nursery areas in the Strait of Sicily and steps towards the preservation of deep-sea habitats .

Vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) such as cold-water coral reefs, black coral gardens and deep-sea sponge aggregations have been neglected for many years. Regional fisheries management organisations have been legally obliged since 2008 to act and protect them from fishing impacts, but this was never in the list of priority topics on GFCM’s agenda.

We have been  pushing for GFCM to advance its protection of VMEs pushing to raise VME’s profile, and last week we were extremely pleased to see that we are not the only ones concerned about their preservation. Mediterranean countries and the EU have just committed to begin work towards developing management measures to protect VMEs, to be approved by 2018. Their first step will be to define a list of species, habitats and related geological features (such as seamounts and submarine canyons) that host these fragile ecosystems. Once the list is ready, by spring 2017 at the latest, it will be the basis for new management measures, whichshould include identifying areas where VMEs occur and protecting them from bottom fishing impacts, protocols for vessels that encounter VMEs during fishingand impact assessments prior to fishing activities.

This is an enormous, unprecedented step towards the protection of long-forgotten deep-sea habitats and the biodiversity they host – including major commercially fished Mediterranean species that depend on these ecosystems for at least part of their life cycles

For Oceana, it is also the result of many hours of hard work at our desks and in meetings, preparing technical details and building political support. It is also the right moment to sincerely thank decision-makers for a brave move forward that will contribute to restoring overfished stocks and lead to a healthier Mediterranean Sea.


P.S. Check our photo album of deep-sea corals to see what these amazing VMEs look like!