Oceana discovers a new mediterranean habitat in a area threatened by oil exploration

The field of stony sponges was found at a depth of over 700 metres, on a seamount between Valencia and the Balearic Islands.

Press Release Date: August 29, 2013

Location: Madrid


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The European Commission has asked Spain what environmental safeguards will be put in place in response to Cairn’s exploration project, which ignored valuable marine ecosystems in its impact assessment.

Oceana has discovered thousands of stony sponges (lithistidae order) on a small seamount between Valencia and Ibiza, where an oil exploration project will soon take place. This habitat, although already known to exist in the Canary Islands and other North Atlantic areas, had not previously been found in the Mediterranean. Its discovery serves to highlight the richness of this sea, which despite making up only 1% of the world’s ocean surface, is home to more than 18% of the world’s marine species.

“It is great news to keep finding new species and habitats in the Mediterranean. As we continue getting to know the deep areas of this sea better, we find that the wildlife that we didn’t believe to exist in this sea, is in fact here”, said Ricardo Aguilar, research director at Oceana in Europe.

The small subterranean mountain, about 54 miles from the city of Valencia, 45 from Cape Nao and 28 from the coast of Ibiza, rises some 500 metres above the seabed. It is included in the areas that the Spanish government has authorised for oil exploration by Cairn. The European Commission recently asked the Spanish Government to implement environmental safeguards in the area.

Along the stone sponge field, at a depth of around 750 metres, forests of gorgonians, corals, galleries of crustaceans, deepwater crabs, shrimps, rat-tail fish and grenadiers, conger eels, cushion sea stars and a wide diversity of marine life were also found. Before taking samples from this seamount, Oceana used an underwater robot to observe the bathyal depths in the canyons to the south of the Columbretes islands, which are also open to oil exploration. This area is very rich in devil fish and commercially valuable species such as hake and shellfish.

“It would have been very easy for both the Spanish government and the oil company to find out that extremely valuable ecosystems exist in these ocean depths, if they had made minimal effort to look into it before granting permits or submitting impact studies, where there is no mention at all of these ecosystems”, added Aguilar. “They are giving oil exploration permits in many areas without having the slightest idea about the species and ecosystems that are going to be affected. It is irresponsible, in the same way that it was in the Canary Islands, Andalusia and Catalonia”. Oceana has available photographs and video