Oceana calls for the expansion of three marine protected areas to protect vital undersea forests
The organization has documented the existence of deep-sea laminarians near Alboran, Columbretes and Cabrera islands in Western Mediterranean.
Press Release Date: December 2, 2010
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A variety of species rely on these habitats, which are often unprotected because they occur far from the coast.
Oceana has proposed the expansion of three protected areas in Spanish Mediterranean to include deeper waters so as to safeguard laminarian forests, which are essential marine habitats due to their associated biodiversity. The initiative was presented today in Tunisia during the 4th Symposium on Marine Vegetation held within the framework of the United Nations Mediterranean Action Plan.
The proposal urges protection for deep-sea laminarian forests from the Laminaria and Phylliariopsis genera, present on sea floors that are located outside the current limits of Cabrera National Park and the marine reserves of Alboran Island and the Columbretes Islands. One of these deep-sea species, Laminaria rodriguezii, is endemic to the Mediterranean and is currently endangered. Oceana identified this species during a recent expedition outside the limits of the protected area of Columbretes and Cabrera.
Laminarians are brown algae that can grow to be very long, measuring over four meters in Spanish waters including the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Cantabrian, and up to 30 meters in other seas around the world. These algae can occur at a wide variety of depths, although they need light to photosynthesize: from the coastline –in the intertidal zone, as it occurs in the Cantabrian- to deeper areas up to 100 meters from the surface. Oceana used divers and an ROV (undersea robot) to film and photograph these plants.
The habitats created by laminarians are especially important because they form veritable undersea forests that shelter a wide variety of marine species, from small invertebrates and other algae that develop among and on their stipes and blades, to molluscs, echinoderms, crustaceans, sharks, rays and other fish, even cetaceans. All of these organisms depend on these habitats at some point in their life cycles. However, laminarians receive different levels of protection and one species (Saccorhiza polyschides) has yet to be included in any protection convention.
Marine protected areas, have generally been designed and designated for coastal areas, protecting shallow ecosystems while ignoring important deep-sea habitats. Thus, these habitats have been forgotten by protection measures for the marine environment.
 The event is organized by the Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA) and its objective is to collect existing data on Mediterranean marine vegetation, bringing together scientists and experts on the subject.