Images and data gathered by the marine conservation organization during expeditions support call for protection of these vulnerable habitats.
Oceana yesterday presented findings from its expeditions to a group of scientists and experts from Norway, the UK, France, Sweden, Germany and Spain gathered in Norway under the framework of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR). The images and data demonstrate the existence of 28 marine habitats in the Atlantic waters of Spain and Portugal as well as in the Kattegat (Baltic) that should be protected under OSPAR. The workshop was set up to discuss the development of more precise and clearer definitions of marine habitats, so as to ensure the protection of those that are in danger of disappearing or are in serious decline.
Despite the large marine areas and rich biodiversity in countries like Spain and Portugal, which boast unique habitats that are not found in other areas, OSPAR’s list of Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats has so far mostly included habitats from its northern Contracting Parties. Oceana’s contributions to the workshop will increase the amount of information currently available on these areas, and will hopefully encourage their protection.
"Countries like Norway, the UK and Germany have made strong efforts to study their marine biodiversity and track down the important habitats in their waters. However, the southern countries, mainly Portugal and Spain, have invested a lot less effort to generate this knowledge, which is linked to current the lack of proper management and protection for their marine resources. It is high time for the biodiversity of these countries to be appreciated and included into international protection lists," said Ricardo Aguilar, research director at Oceana Europe.
Fisheries and pollution have led to a dangerous situation for many habitats that can only be recovered with the immediate adoption of protective measures by all countries. Oceana has documented, using an underwater robot (ROV) at depths reaching -700 meters, the rich biodiversity of many of these sites, on which numerous species (many of great commercial value) rely.
"These findings will allow countries like Spain and Portugal to create new marine protected areas and thus make progress in complying with regulations and international agreements on marine conservation," added Ana de la Torriente, marine scientist at Oceana who presented the proposal. "In the past these countries have used the lack of scientific information as the reason for their delay in establishing marine protected areas. This must be corrected immediately, and Spain and Portugal must catch up to the other OSPAR Contracting Parties. "
The OSPAR Convention requires that its Contracting Parties create, by 2012, a coherent network of marine protected areas that includes specific management measures aimed at the conservation and recovery of the many endangered species and habitats in European waters. The exchange of scientific information at this week’s workshop aims to improve the definition of habitats such as "gorgonian gardens," "deep sponge aggregations” or "sea pens and fauna excavator." This will facilitate OSPAR contracting parties’ identification of these vital habitats in their waters, allowing them to implement specific measures for their conservation, such as the designation of marine protected areas.
Oceana Proposal: Background document for discussion