More than ten species of these colonies of animals inhabit the top of a small marine mountain only 12 miles from the coast of Almería.
Dolphins, pilot whales and sea turtles are frequent visitors to this important marine area of immense ecological value for which Oceana requests protection
During the past weeks, the specialists aboard the Oceana Ranger research vessel, with the help from a submarine robot (ROV) and in collaboration with the Biodiversity Foundation, have examined the marine life in the Macizo de Chella massif or Seco de los Olivos, in front of the coast of Almería. Over one square kilometre has been studied with the robot, at depths between 75 and 240 meters.
The first submarine shots of this small marine mountain have shown the large variety of life forms that can be found here. Important groups of corals and gorgonians, as well as cetaceans such as the bottlenose dolphin and the long-finned pilot whale inhabit these areas. Some of the species found here have never been seen in the coastal areas of Almería, and this is proof of the rich ecological value of this area. Important extensions of calcified algae forests or maerl beds and sandy ecosystems can also be found here.
The areas where groups of corals are clustered are usually referred to as forests or gardens due to their shrub-like shape and branched structures, although these colonies actually consist of animals.
Among the identified species, there are two types of tree corals (Dendrophyllia ramea and Dendrophyllia cornigera), different types of gorgonians or sea fans, such as the whip gorgonians (Viminella flagellum and Elisella paraplexauroides), cable gorgonians (Eunicella filiformis), spiny gorgonians (Eunicella verrucosa), red gorgonians (Paramuricea clavata), and even black corals as well as many other species that the Oceana specialists are still working to identify.
Other species belonging to the coral family such as the tube anemones (Epizoanthus sp.), sea pens (Pennatula rubra, Funiculina cuadrangularis or Virgularia mirabilis), finger-shaped sea pens (Veretillun cynomorium), dead man's finger coral (Alcyionum palmatum) or soft corals such as the Paralcyonum spinulosum are also to be found in the area of the Seco de los Olivos.
Unfortunately, this marine paradise is not exempt from threats. Apart from strewn garbage, the sea floors have been scarred by bottom trawlers that have damaged some of this area and lost fishing gear can be found every 50 meters, according to estimates made by Oceana.
The list of species also includes a large variety of fish - such as streaked gurnard (Trigloporus lastoviza), monkfish (Lophius sp.), serpent eels (Ophisurus serpens), snipefish (Macrohamphosus scolopax), scorpionfish (Scorpaena scrofa), atlantic torpedos (Torpedo nobiliana), small-spotted catsharks (Scyliorhinus canícula), conger eels (Conger conger), greater forkbeards (Phycis blenoides), forkbeards (Phycis Phycis), mullets (Mullus sp.), swallow-tail seaperch (Anthias anthias), combers (Serranus cabrilla), atlantic horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus), boarfish (Caprus aper), crustaceans -lobsters (Palinurus elephas), hermit crabs (Dardanus calidus), shamefaced crabs (Calappa granulata), skeleton shrimp (Pseudoprotella phasma)-, molluscs: common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), bobtail squid (Sepiola sp.) and octopus (Octopus vulgaris), echinoderms: sea cucumbers (Eostichopus regalis), basket sea stars (Astropartus mediterraneus), red comb sea stars (Astropecten aranciacus), sea urchins (Echinus acutus), long-armed sea stars (Chaetaster longipes), purple heart sea urchins (Spatangus purpureus), groove burrowing sea urchins (Brissus unicolor), sipunculidae, spoon worms (Bonellia viridis), sponges: calcareous sponges (Thenea muricata), elephant ear sponges (Spongia agaricina), tube sponges (Aplysina aerophoba) or branching sponges (Axinella sp.), tunicates: football sea squirts (Diazona violacea), polychaete worms: red tube worms (Serpula vermicularis), among others.
"We have been able to witness some unusual behaviour, such as a lobster digging up and eating a sea urchin, or a hermit crab devouring a mauve stinger jellyfish (Pelagia nocticula), the species that has caused havoc on the Spanish beaches this year, where many people requested medical care. Or the so-called red gorgonians, which are completely yellow here," declared Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research for Oceana in Europe.
For three years, Oceana has been reminding the Spanish government of the importance of this area in the Mediterranean due to the large number of protected species it shelters, but until now they did not have any physical proof of the marine life inhabiting these sea floors.
For this reason, Oceana has centred part of their work within their Expedición 2006 project to document this area using technologies capable of filming at great depths, so they have the necessary information in order to promote its protection.
"The results are spectacular. Few places in our waters harbour so much biodiversity, making them vitally important. We trust the Spanish government will act quickly, thanks to this evidence, to protect this area as it deserves to be protected," affirms Xavier Pastor, Director of Oceana in Europe.
Oceana has filmed over 12 hours of these sea floors, and they have stated their intention of putting the film at the disposal of the scientific community in order that it may be carefully analysed.
Alnitak and the Spanish Society for Cetaceans (SEC) have been working for many years on the marine surface of this area, which they have pointed out is an area of particular interest due to the abundance of dolphins, and this fact alone should suffice for it to be considered a protected area according to the National Parks legislation recently presented by the Spanish government. Alnitak and the SEC have been requesting this area be included in the list of Special Areas of Conservation as described in the European Union's Habitats Directive due to its special interest as habitat for the bottlenose dolphin. The fact that its sea floors also harbour rich fauna render it even more valuable as a future protected area.