Nominated species include the tallest gorgonian in the Mediterranean and the longest-living ocean coral
The 11th meeting of the Barcelona Convention on Protected Areas and Biodiversity will start next Monday in Rabat (Morocco). One of the main topics for discussion this year will be the improved protection of deep-sea corals, given the proposal of the Italian Government to include 11 new species in protection lists. Oceana is asking Mediterranean countries to support this initiative to halt the destruction of these frail organisms which are under threat in most oceans.
“Though their environmental significance has been acknowledged in the scientific world, there are still no instruments to protect deep-sea corals from the aggressions arising from human activity in the Mediterranean” says Ricardo Aguilar, Head of Research at Oceana in Europe. “These habitats are extremely fragile and a large number of species depend on them, some of which are even of commercial interest. The Mediterranean is in a critical state, with 88% of its stocks overexploited, and protection of these corals will no doubt contribute to their conservation”.
Deep-sea corals play a key role in deep-sea ecosystems, as they are large biodiversity focuses which shelter many species that use them as spawning areas. However, they are not sufficiently represented in protection lists o in the current protected marine area network. Until recently soon, this lack of protection was due to lack of knowledge, but recent discoveries and scientific publications support the Italian proposal for protection.
The nominated species include the candelabrum gorgonian (Ellisella paraplexauroides), which, at a height of 2 metres, is the tallest gorgonian in the Mediterranean and one of the tallest in the world, and the black tree coral (Leiopathes glaberrima), which can live for more than 2,000 years, although some studies in the Pacific have dated it as more than 4,000 year old. Together with these extremely vulnerable species, the Mediterranean stony coral (Cladocora caespitosa), which is a “living fossil” that has existed in the Mediterranean since the Pleistocene, the weak stony coral (Cladocora debilis), and the fan gorgonian (Callogorgia verticillata) have also been nominated for inclusion in the Convention protection list. Other black corals such as Antipathella subpinnata, Antipathes dichotoma, Antipathes fragilis y Parantipathes larix have also been nominated for increased protection.
“There are only five coral species in the almost 200 species currently listed for protection or adequate management, including red coral (Corallium rubrum) and warm-water coral (Astroides calycularis)”, added Pilar Marín, a marine scientist at Oceana. “After 18 years of the application of the Protocol on Protected Areas and Biodiversity, no new coral species have been included. Oceana believes that, given the scientific information currently available, there is no excuse to avoid updating the Appendices”.
The Barcelona Convention is the United Nations tool for the protection of the Mediterranean against pollution. The Convention, through its protocols, regulates protected areas and conservation of biological diversity, offshore dumping, pollution from ships, offshore prospection, and integral management of coastal areas. The representatives of coastal countries meet every two years to discuss the various issues that will be finally approved in the meeting of the Parties, which will be held in early December.