Oceana discovered a deep-sea, white coral reef in the Alboran sea (Western Mediterranean) during the Oceana Ranger's 2011 expedition. The international marine conservation organization estimates that the reef’s surface area may exceed 10 hectares and covers a large part of the surface of a seamount whose peak is located between 320 and 400 meters depth. The finding proves that there are still unexplored areas in this region that may harbor many more surprises.
Deep-sea corals area among the most vulnerable ecosystems and the United Nations has called for their protection. Most of these interesting communities have disappeared from large extensions of European waters and the Mediterranean due to bottom trawling, changes in water temperature or natural catastrophic events.
Information about the existence of these corals in the Mediterranean is not complete and usually concerns small colonies or dead reefs. In this case, the reef still maintains important live colonies growing on structures older than the dead corals, reaching a height of over one and a half meters.
The discovery was made in the southeast Alboran Sea, in international waters. The seamount was inspected by an underwater robot that can descend to 600 meters depth, which also provided spectacular images of other habitats of ecological importance.
“We are not only talking about a large coral reef but also extensive gorgonian gardens, black coral forests and glass sponge fields, all of these important habitats for the health of the Mediterranean,” explained Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research of Oceana Europe. “In addition, we can highlight the presence of rare or little known species, such as ball corals, carnivorous sponges, the bathyal octopus and the sail ray.”
Oceana will present this data to the Barcelona Convention so it can act quickly and declare new marine protected areas in the Mediterranean in order to preserve the last coral reefs and the valuable ecosystems that still exist in this sea.
In 2010, Oceana presented a project (Oceana MedNet) to create a network of protected spaces that includes 10% of the Mediterranean, including seamounts, canyons, oceanic gyres, etc., given their importance for marine life. This discovery strengthens the petition and proves the need to quickly react to prevent these structures and habitats from disappearing from our waters.