The seamounts are responsible for the maintenance of a complex food chain, due to the different depths that can be found within the same area, and the changes that they generate in the marine currents.
In the Channel of Mallorca, a great wealth and abundance of species has been documented, along with dozens of habitats of interest demanding conservation. The area is home to both protected species and others of great commercial value, such as the bluefin tuna, albacore and swordfish. The channel is an area densely populated with loggerhead turtles and also attracts the bottlenose dolphin and the Balearic shearwater.
Scientists from Oceana, the Spanish Oceanographic Institute and the University of Bari (Italy) have identified a forest of bamboo coral (Isidella elongata) in the Channel of Mallorca with more than 2,500 colonies per hectare, compared to the few dozen that are found in areas that suffer the effects of trawling. The forest, made up of a species in critical danger of extinction, was found at a depth of more than 400 metres.
Exploring mountains in the sea
Oceana carried out several campaigns in the area between 2006 and 2014. Although sightings have been made on the surface and in the water column, much of the observation has been carried out at depths of between 90 and 800 metres. For this reason, the use of an ROV or submarine robot has been essential, since these depths cannot be documented by divers.
Thus, we have filmed forests of deep-sea gorgonians and large black corals and we have discovered new habitats whose presence was unknown on these seamounts, such as the fields of stone sponges.
On the basis of this documentation, Oceana has pushed for measures of protection for these seamounts. Thus, in August 2014, and after a long campaign by Oceana, trawling was prohibited on the rhodolith and coralligenous beds on the summits of Ausias March and Emile Baudot. These habitats, very characteristic of the Mediterranean, attract numerous protected species.
Proposal for protection
The declaration of a marine national park of the seamounts in the seas of the Channel of Mallorca would substantially increase the ecosystemic diversity of the protected areas, including almost fifty habitats and marine communities and hundreds of species. Oceana made an initial proposal for protection in 2010 and the following year published a second report with a detailed description of the communities documented in the area.
Oceana proposes the protection of some 633,000 ha, which would allow the protection of systems not yet represented in the network, such as: (1) Systems associated with submarine cold seeps, through the inclusion of an area of pockmarks (emitting gas), between Ses Olives and Arias March; and (2) Pelagic areas of passage, reproduction or with the habitual presence of cetaceans or large migratory fish, since this is an area of particular importance to the sperm whale, classified as “endangered” in the Mediterranean. It would also greatly increase the representation of the natural systems associated with: (3) Large seamounts, submarine caves, tunnels and canyons; and (4) Shoals and steep escarpments, by the inclusion of the southern area of the Emile Baudot escarpment.