At 5000 m high, the Gorringe seamounts, located in the Atlantic, 300 km off the Portuguese shore, are on their way to becoming a new Marine Protected Area, following their nomination by the Portuguese government[i]. Oceana, which has documented this area on several occasions, is thrilled with this announcement.
Since 2005, Oceana has worked to include this bank, one of the most spectacular seamount ranges in the world, into the Atlantic protected space network. These huge peaks are home to a greatly diverse sea life, and they reflect the history of the Atlantic ocean from its beginnings to present day.
The Gorringe seamounts began to form at the end of the Jurassic period, with the movement of the North American, African, and Eurasian tectonic plates. Located on the Azores-Gibraltar fault, they have always had a history of upheavals, including the great 1775 earthquake, which generated a tsunami that destroyed the city of Lisbon, as well as other Portuguese, Spanish, and Moroccan towns.
From the biological point of view, the Gorringe seamounts are home to a wide range of fauna and flora due to their broad bathymetric distribution. The Gettysburg and Ormonde peaks almost reach the surface, allowing the establishment of large algae communities, including kelp forests. On their slopes, sponge aggregations, coral gardens, and detrital seabeds give rise to highly complex ecosystems, while great pelagic species, such as whales, sharks, swordfish, and seabirds, live in their waters.
In October 2012, Oceana, which has been collaborating for the past few years with the University of Algarve, launched its latest expedition to the Gorringe area, which revealed species never seen before in these seamounts, such as roughskin dogfish, nest sponges, and various black corals. But it also found signs of deterioration in an almost pristine area, such as waste and the remains of fishing gear, particularly in rocky seabeds where the long-lived deep-sea perch, which can live for more than 125 years, is found.
“The nomination of the Gorringe as a protected area in the Atlantic brings hope to ocean recovery”, says Ricardo Aguilar, Head of Research at Oceana in Europe. “Portugal is the country with the least protected surface in Europe, and it must make great efforts to meet European and UN goals to conserve at least 10% of its marine surface”.
The Portuguese Government has launched an ambitious project to expand marine protected areas in its waters which, will propel it to the top as the EU member with the largest marine surface, and raise its profile in the international community. With more than 1.7 km2 of waters in its Exclusive Economic Zone, and almost 4 million km2 claimed as an expansion of its continental shelf, Portugal is assuming international responsibility in the conservation of oceans.
Oceana obtained the first images of the Gorringe bank in 2005. Thanks to the support of the Foundation for the Third Millennium, in 2011 and 2012, Oceana further documented different areas in the Gorringe to collect data to support its protection.
Further information: Gorringe Bank
[i] OSPAR. Meeting of the Intersessional Correspondence Group on Marine Protected Areas (ICG-MPA). Edinburgh, 21-23 January.