Report | July 20, 2017

Isidella elongata (Cnidaria: Alcyonacea) facies in the western Mediterranean Sea: visual surveys and descriptions of its ecological role

Isidella elongata is a candelabrum-shaped alcyonacean forming important facies on the bathyal muddy bottoms of the Mediterranean Sea, currently considered a sensitive habitat and heavily impacted by deep-sea fisheries. Until a few decades ago, this facies was a widespread habitat of the deep Mediterranean seabed and I. elongata was a common species in the trawling fishery’s bycatch. Despite its current persistence in dense aggregations being very scarce, a dense facies of I. elongata was revealed during several ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) surveys carried out from 2010 to 2014 on the muddy bottoms between two seamounts east of Ibiza (Balearic Sea). The facies developed in an area between 480 and 615 m in depth where trawling is forbidden, with an extraordinary density of about 2300–2683 colonies/ha, representing one of the biggest facies of I. elongata currently known for the Mediterranean Sea considering the surface covered and the colonies’ density. The associated community was surveyed, with 50 taxa identified. Moreover, a canyon southwest of Formentera characterised by the presence of I. elongata together with a high trawling impact was investigated. The density of the colonies was 53–62 colonies/ha and only 19 taxa of associated fauna were observed. The results of the two areas are compared and discussed in the framework of the protection of such an important habitat.