Oceana to the United Nations: Protect the Balearic seamounts

Adequate management measures needed for over 200 newly-identified species in the area, including protected fish, corals, sponges, cetaceans, sharks and turtles.

Press Release Date: November 30, 2010

Location: Madrid


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

New report details proposal based on four years of undersea research in the Mallorca channel.

Oceana has submitted a proposal to protect the main seamounts in the Mallorca channel (known as Ausias March, Ses Olives and Emile Baudot). The document was presented during the 11th session of the Sub-Committee on Marine Environment and Ecosystems of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), the United Nations regional body for fisheries management in the Mediterranean. The Sub-Committee is meeting in Malta until the 2nd of December and if Oceana’s proposal is accepted, the Balearic Sea would harbor the fifth area protected by the GFCM, with an approximate area of 2,800 km2, which is five times larger than the island of Ibiza.

For four years, Oceana has researched the deep-sea ecosystems of the Mallorca channel, verifying that the seamounts located in the channel harbor a wide variety of vulnerable species and habitats, including coralline structures, rhodolith or maerl beds and deep-sea sponge aggregations. An especially important habitat identified here is an Isidella elongata field, considered an essential habitat for various marine species, many of which are present in the area.

Oceana has identified over 200 species on these seamounts, including various protected species including the carnivorous sponge Asbestopluma hypogea, the mollusc Charonia lampas or the gorgonians Savalia savaglia and Eunicella verrucosa, as well as species of commercial value. The water column above these seamounts is also an essential pelagic environment for cetaceans like dolphins and sperm whales, large predators like tunas, sharks or sea turtles. New data collected during the Oceana Ranger’s last expedition last summer is now being analysed, so the number of important species and habitats identified in the area is expected to increase.

“The conservation of the Balearic seamounts will not only greatly benefit the marine ecosystems, it will also increase the Balearic Islands’ reputation as a region focused on correcting past errors and establishing a new economic model based on environmental conservation, argued Xavier Pastor, Director of Oceana Europe. President Antich has indicated, in conversations with our organization, his interest in Oceana’s initiative, even though the waters where these seamounts are located, in the channel between Mallorca and Ibiza, are under the competence of the national government and the United Nations international bodies. Political support from the Balearic government, however, is very important for the approval of this proposal”.

Both recreational and industrial fishing vessels operate in the area, including trawlers, longliners and tuna seiners. All of these affect the area’s biodiversity, which is especially vulnerable to these activities. Overexploitation of resources and aggressive fishing techniques, like bottom trawling, seriously affect the entire trophic chain and as a consequence, the future of fishing in the area. In fact, some ecosystems identified by Oceana, such as coralline and maerl structures, are protected under national and European laws, which prohibit trawling over these formations given their importance for other marine organisms.

Thus, Oceana calls for adequate management measures to regulate and control which activities can and cannot be carried out, taking into account all the important habitats identified in the area and avoiding overexploitation and dumping of waste material, nets and lines, commonly found in large quantities in these waters.

The closing of this area to aggressive fishing activities like trawling or any other activity that threatens the richness and importance of this area will ensure the survival of habitats in the Mediterranean that are essential for a variety of protected species or those of high commercial value, and will promote ecological and socio-economic benefits for the Balearic community and the entire Mediterranean region.

In keeping with the guidelines established by FAO, the GFCM has already restricted fishing in four Mediterranean marine areas in order to conserve vulnerable habitats and live marine resources. These areas include the Eratosthenes seamount south of Cyprus, the gas seeps off the Nile delta, the white coral reefs of Santa Maria di Leuca in the Ionian Sea in southern Italy, and an area of submarine canyons in the Gulf of Lyons in waters off the coast of France. These areas harbor important protected habitats including deep-sea ecosystems and spawning areas, both highly vulnerable to destructive fishing techniques and overexploitation of resources.

Proposal sent to the GFCM and map