The EU delays the protection of mediterranean deep-sea corals

The European Commission has forced the postponement of the agreement to protect eleven species of deep-sea corals in the Mediterranean.

Press Release Date: September 13, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

This delay goes against the position of many Mediterranean countries, which value the vulnerability of these species and their significance to marine ecosystems. This is a case similar to what happened with the protection of several species of threatened sharks and rays, which the EU blocked for more than one year before finally giving up in July 2012.

At yesterday’s conclusion of the meeting under the Barcelona Convention, the Commission expressed its reservations to the amendment of the Annexes to the SPA Protocol. Such reservations were also expressed when the proposal was initially submitted in Rabat in July of this year, in spite of the agreement of the other Parties.

The European Commission’s decision to block the protection of deep-sea corals is inconsistent with its conservation policies, as these species are already protected in other European seas”, says Ricardo Aguilar, director of research at Oceana in Europe. “During Oceana’s expeditions, we have observed how often the destruction of deep-sea species goes unnoticed. Corals are even more threatened as they are fixed to the sea floor and should thus be urgently protected.”

Oceana, and experts from around the world, argue that these extremely vulnerable species are particularly relevant to the conservation and ecosystem functioning of the deep-sea, but are currently threatened by different human activities, including destructive fishing practices.

The protection of deep-sea corals in the Mediterranean would have no adverse effect on economic activity, since according to FAO data there has never been any commercial fishery targeting these species. Their trade (especially that of black corals) has never been of much significance in the Mediterranean basin because of the difficulty in obtaining raw material given that their weak skeletons are commonly colonised by other marine organisms. Such characteristics make them unprofitable for the jewellery industry, which is the common destination for “precious corals”.

“The current protection tools under the Barcelona Convention are obsolete when it comes to safeguarding deep-sea species, and the European Union, as a Contracting Party should be responsible for updating them, not only to enhance the protection of these species, but also to follow the current trend in other regional seas around the world”, added Pilar Marín, marine scientist and MedNet project coordinator at Oceana. “Moreover, it would facilitate the development of the appropriate mechanisms to respond to the urgent need to complete a coherent and representative network of marine protected areas in the Mediterranean, including in deep-sea areas”.    

The meeting, which discussed the inclusion of deep-sea corals in Annex II of the SPA Protocol, took place in Athens (Greece) from 10th to 12th September under the framework of the Barcelona Convention. This meeting forms part of the preparatory round for the next meeting between the Contracting Parties, which is set to take place in December in Istanbul (Turkey).

Report “Mediterranean deep-sea corals: reasons for protection under the Barcelona Convention”