Experts from different organizations including Oceana have drafted an Action Plan to preserve "dark habitats" within the United Nations framework.
The EU and the Mediterranean countries must now reach an agreement to protect underwater caves, mountains, and canyons.
Oceana has participated in the drafting of the Action Plan for the conservation of Mediterranean deep-sea habitats, which has been agreed upon by experts from various scientific institutions. The international marine conservation organization will ask Mediterranean countries and the European Union, meeting this week in Rabat, to accept this roadmap. Approval is essential for the Barcelona Convention, an organization stemming from the United Nations, to decide to conserve these fragile habitats at its meeting at the end of this year.
“Deep-sea habitats are key to the life-cycle of many species; nevertheless they are scarcely protected. That is why we have spent years documenting their condition on board the Oceana Ranger”, states Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Investigation for Oceana in Europe and participant in the drafting of this document. “The approval of the Action Plan is the first step for these important habitats to figure in national and international political agendas. Given the alarming situation in the Mediterranean sea, it is time for countries to reach the same consensus as scientists."
Deep-sea marine habitats and submarine caves, also known as "dark habitats", are environments where the luminosity is extremely weak or non-existent, impeding the growth of plants and algae. This makes them unique from a biological point of view as they favor the growth of such characteristic species as cold-water coral or deep-sea sponges. They depend on factors such as currents, carrying nutrients and, in some cases, production by chemosynthesis and not directly from light. In turn, they are important spawning or nursery areas for other species, many of which are of commercial interest. In the Mediterranean different types of dark habitats can be found: submarine caves, mountains, canyons, cold seeps, mud volcanoes, etc.
The Action Plan has three main objectives: to conserve the integrity and functionality of these deep-sea habitats, to facilitate the restoration of damaged areas, and to improve scientific knowledge on the subject. To do this, a series of actions have been proposed, among which are the establishment of marine protected areas and awareness-raising programs so that the biological importance and extreme vulnerability of these habitats is made known to the public.
“Deep-sea habitats carry out a truly important function in the operation of deep-sea ecosystems and coincide for the most part with geological structures such as submarine mountains and canyons", states Pilar Marín, Oceana marine scientist. “We have worked for several years on Oceana MedNet, a proposal for a network of protected marine areas for the Mediterranean focused on the protection of these types of habitats”.
The Barcelona Convention is a United Nations tool to protect the Mediterranean against pollution. The Convention, through its protocols, regulates the protected areas and the conservation of biological diversity, dumping from land, contamination from vessels, offshore prospecting, and the integral management of coastal regions. The 11th meeting over Protected Areas and Biodiversity is being held between the 2nd and the 5th of July in Rabat (Morocco). Its results, together with the help of other protocols, will be taken to the plenary session of the Conference of Parties (COP), which meets every two years and will take place in early December.