Dense kelp forests, deep-sea sponge fields and black coral forests were identified, along with species including Minke whales, spotted dolphin and sea pens, among others
Oceana identified over 100 different marine species on Gorringe seamount after completing a scientific expedition in the Portuguese Atlantic during recent weeks with support from the Foundation for the Third Millennium. Apart from important kelp forests, the international marine conservation organization documented deep-sea sponge fields, black coral forests, extensive oyster beds and over 100 different species including spotted dolphin, Minke whales, sea pens, slipper lobsters and fish including orange roughies, longspine snipefish, morays and conger eels.
The findings reflect the area’s high levels of marine biodiversity and richness and, in Oceana’s opinion, justify the inclusion of this seamount in the Natura 2000 Network, Europe's most important eco-network. “Gorringe bank is an impressive place. The base of the mountain lies on the sea bed at 5,000 meters depth, but its peaks rise up to 30 meters. This means kelp can develop down to 80 meters depth, something that doesn’t occur in other areas and would explain this area’s high productivity,” explains Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research at Oceana Europe.
During the expedition, a team of specialists, marine scientists and divers collected photographs and video footage and an ROV (underwater robot) was used to record high-resolution images on the sea beds down to 600 meters depth, for subsequent analysis.
By disseminating these preliminary results, Oceana hopes to collaborate with the Portuguese government by providing new scientific information about unexplored areas. This information can be used to identify these as areas of special interest because of the species and habitats they harbor. Furthermore, these areas must be protected in order to comply with European legislation and the different international commitments Portugal has acquired.
Despite the fact that the Habitats Directive was approved 19 years ago, currently only 0.10% of Portuguese marine areas are part of the Natura 2000 Network, making Portugal the EU country with the least percentage of areas designated to form part of this network. During the biogeographical assessment seminars carried out by the European Commission in 2009 and 2010, the Commission described Portugal’s network of MPAs as insufficient, both in Macaronesian and peninsular waters, obligating the country to create new MPAs urgently.
Various international conventions, like the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR), and the scientific community in general, consider seamounts to be priority areas due to the biodiversity they harbor. Within the EU, Portugal is the country with the largest marine area and the one with the most number of seamounts in its territory; its responsibility to protect these ecosystems is unquestionable.
For the development of this expedition, Oceana received support from scientists from the University of the Algarve and the Portuguese interministerial agency Estrutura de Missão para os Assuntos do Mar (EMAM) that provided advising for the design of the expedition in Portuguese waters and collaborated in the identification of species and data collection.
According to Ana de la Torriente, Oceana’s marine scientist, “Collaboration between scientists from both countries has been very enriching and played a key role in the expedition. From the moment we embarked, we maintained constant contact, working together to analyze data, and this will allow us to make specific protection proposals based on scientific data. This is our way of collaborating to reverse the current situation in Portuguese waters and make advances in marine conservation.”
Oceana documented Portuguese sea beds for the first time in 2005 when the organization explored beds around the Azores, specifically around Faial Island and Joao de Castro bank, apart from one of Gorringe’s peaks known as Gettysburg. To complement the data obtained in Portuguese waters, the international organization also completed various dives off the coast of the Algarve, in southern Portugal.
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