Oceana discovers a carnivorous sponge in Andalusia, Spain

It is the first time this species is found in Spain. Other interesting sponges, such as glass sponges, have also been found in this area.

Press Release Date: August 22, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

The project carried out by Oceana in collaboration with the Fundación Biodiversidad contributes new data to marine research.

A small yet interesting carnivorous sponge has been discovered by Oceana on a seamount located 10 miles from the coast of Almeria (Spain), known as “Seco de los Olivos”. It is the first time this species, scientifically referred to as Asbestopluma hypogea, is found in Spanish waters (at approximately 167 meters depth). Until now, it had only been found in three submarine caves in shallow waters (between 15 and 25 meters depth), two in France and one in Croatia.

The strange Mediterranean carnivorous sponge measures only 2 centimetres and due to its scarcity, it has been included in the list of protected species of the Barcelona Convention for the protection of the Mediterranean. 

Carnivorous sponges are so rare that there is an ongoing scientific debate about whether they should be considered sponges. Unlike other sponges, they do not filter water to capture small organisms in suspension. These sponges have filaments equipped with stingers that allow them to capture small crustaceans, enveloping them first and then digesting them with the help of various bacteria.

“The diversity of sponges, corals, gorgonians and many other species in the Seco de los Olivos does not cease to surprise us. Each day we make a new discovery that adds to the ecological interest of this area”, declares Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research for Oceana.

Carnivorous sponges have been documented in ocean waters up to almost 9,000 meters depth. The species found by Oceana, however, had never been documented outside of caves or at great depths before, making this discovery very valuable.

Similarly, it may be the first time that the spectacular glass sponges, or hexactinellids of the Asconema and Aphrocallistes genuses have been detected in Mediterranean waters. They have been filmed at 200 meters depth by the undersea robot Oceana uses onboard its research catamaran, the Ranger. The larger specimens, measuring almost 50 centimetres in height, look like cups or upside-down hats. Glass sponges occur frequently in deep, cold waters and are especially common in the Antarctic. Other similar sponges were discovered two years ago by the Spanish Oceanographic Institute (IEO) in “El Cachucho” bank, the seamounts located north of Asturias that could become the first marine park in Spain.

Within the area sampled, Oceana also found a large quantity of lost fishing gear that had damaged various sponges, gorgonians and corals.

The research being carried out by Oceana in Andalusian waters is included within the agreement signed with the Fundación Biodiversidad to define the sea floors and detect potential marine areas to be protected.  

“The importance of the species we are finding in this area, along with the serious threats posed to them, make it necessary for the Spanish government to take urgent measures to protect this unique location , declared Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana, onboard the Ranger.

The video of the discoveries at the seamount Seco de los Olivos is available in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8V4y42jWSlc