Seabeds covered by corals and sponges, gorgonian gardens, kelp forests, maërl and other highly valuable ecosystems located in the north of Spain, are the objectives of researchers on board the Oceana Ranger.
Since the beginning of June, Oceana’s research catamaran, the Ranger, has been carrying out a research campaign off the coast of Galicia, Spain, with the support of the Spanish Fundación Biodiversidad. This expedition aims to document vulnerable and valuable sea floors and propose they be included in the protected area network of the North Atlantic.
Deep sea coral forests are amongst the most spectacular seabeds discovered, especially those comprised of yellow tree coral Dendrophyllia cornigera, distributed between 80 and 500 meters depth in rocky sea bottoms linked to Galician estuaries. Extensive cup sponge and mushroom sponge fields harbouring a wide variety of life forms can also be found in this area. Various species of gorgonians, black coral and false black coral have also been found, some of which could be hundreds of years old.
A wide variety of marine species have been identified in this area, including small-spotted catshark (Scylliorhinus canícula), monkfish (Lophius piscatorius), pout (Trisopterus luscus), poor cod (Trisopterus minutus), Ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta), rainbow wrasse (Coris julis), cuckoo wrasse (Labru bimaculatus), John Dory (Zeus faber), spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis), red starfish (Echinaster sepositus), ophiuran (Ophipholis aculeata), black holothurian (Holothuria forskali), common sea urchin (Echinus esculentus), sea urchin (Echinus acutus), melon sea urchin (Echinus melo), and lobster (Palinurus elephas).
Oceana has also analysed the ecosystems of Galician estuaries, and areas around the National Park of the Atlantic Islands, the Os Minarzos reserve and the Costa da Morte, where important sea floors comprised of maërl (free floating, red calcareous algae) can be found, as well as sea pens, kelp forests, detrital sand and mussel fields, forming the habitats of many cetaceans, including common dolphins (Delphinus delphis), bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), harbour purpoises (Phocoena phocoena), Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus) and Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).
According to Oceana, the sea floors of the estuaries are immensely productive and harbour very high levels of biodiversity. Many of these areas, however, are subjected to unsustainable pressure from contamination, costal zone development and abusive exploitation of resources. Hard and soft sea floors are located in the deeper waters, after kelp-covered bottoms. These are sometimes covered by well-conserved sponges, corals and gorgonians that are, nevertheless, often damaged by abandoned fishing gear.
“Both the Spanish and Galician governments must increase their efforts to comply with international protection objectives. The Galician estuaries need special protection plans in order to maintain the rich ecosystems they harbour, while other areas are in need of marine reserves to protect their ecosystems and species, and ultimately revitalize the stocks of commercial species”, declared Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research and Projects for Oceana Europe, on board the Ranger.
According to the Oslo-Paris Convention for the Conservation of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR), all coastal countries must establish a network of protected areas before 2010. Furthermore, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity requires that at least 10% of marine areas be protected by 2012. In Europe, less than 0.5% of ocean waters are protected, so the declaration of marine protected areas must be accelerated in order to comply with international conventions. There are only two protected areas in Galicia, the National Park of the Atlantic Islands and the Os Miñarzos marine reserve.
“We hope that the information we are collecting will make the government’s work easier, so they may conserve the marine ecosystems. As we have communicated to the representatives of the Galician government and to the Galician fishermen’s associations, we hope that new marine reserves will be created soon in order to improve the management of marine resources and allow the ecosystems and depleted stocks to recover,” added Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe.