Although Portugal has the largest number of seamounts in the Northeast Atlantic, only 3 of these are protected.
In 2005, Oceana was the first organisation to photograph and take video footage of the Gorringe Bank seamounts, southeast of Cape St. Vincent, identifying 36 species that had never been seen before on these mountains.
The international marine conservation organisation Oceana urges the Portuguese government to expand the Natura 2000 Network and protect its seamounts. Despite the fact that Portugal has the largest marine area in the EU and the largest number of seamounts in the Northeast Atlantic, currently only 3 seamounts (João de Castro, Menez Gwen and Lucky Strike), all located around the Azores, are protected and included in the European network of protected areas known as Natura 2000.
Oceana believes that other seamounts in Portuguese waters should also be included in this network, such as Gorringe, Ampere and Seine. To support this proposal, Oceana will carry out an expedition this summer to document and sample the peaks of some of these seamounts, with the help of professional divers and an underwater robot, descending to 1,000 metres depth.
In 2005, Oceana photographed and took video footage of the impressive diversity of the Gorringe Bank, located roughly 250 km southwest of Cape St. Vincent, and identified both Atlantic and Mediterranean species. During the expedition carried out on board the Oceana Ranger research catamaran, the organisation identified 36 species that had never been seen before on these seamounts. The results were published in the report “The Seamounts of the Gorringe Bank”, which includes an initial characterisation of these structures and has served as a reference document for subsequent scientific research.
“Apart from harbouring species that no one had ever seen in the area, the kelp forests covering the peak and gorgonian forests on the slopes are spectacular. The diversity of species, the high level of endemism, as well as the productivity of adjacent areas make the Gorringe Bank one of the most unique seamounts in the Northeast Atlantic, and its protection should be considered an urgent matter,” explains Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research for Oceana Europe.
The importance and vulnerability of sites considered “sensitive habitats” is internationally known and, as such, these areas clearly deserve special protected status. Seamounts are habitats with high concentrations of larvae, and constitute veritable “corridors” for many migratory species, including birds and cetaceans. The high level of diversity and large number of endemic species make these sites hotspots of biodiversity. The ecosystems present here, including kelp or laminaria forests, deep-sea reefs, gorgonian gardens, and coral and sponge fields provide important areas for reproduction and shelter for a number of fish species.
Even so, Oceana calls attention to the lack of scientific information available about these mountain chains and the need to continuously update it, in order to obtain essential data for governments to develop adequate management plans. Protecting and correctly managing seamounts greatly benefits the species that live directly on these structures, as well as those present in the overlying water column. Thus, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and other large pelagic species like tunas would also benefit from protection afforded to these areas.
Ana de la Torriente, marine scientist at Oceana, points out that “the Portuguese government must be aware of the richness of these seamounts and develop a network of marine protected areas that guarantees their conservation, drawing up an adequate management plan with specific measures. In addition, the benefits generated by marine protected areas for fisheries are unquestionable; allowing increased growth of commercial species and generating increased biomass in adjacent areas.”
Oceana has photographs and video footage available