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South of Almeria - Seco de los Olivos. LIFE + INDEMARES Project | Oceana-IEO

IEO and Oceana develop pioneering method to manage protected areas

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019, 06:00 (GMT + 9)

The Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) and Oceana have mapped the deep habitats of Seco de los Olivos, an underwater mountain off the coast of Almería, which can serve as a model to improve the management and conservation of this and other protected areas.

Scientists working in the area (Photo: uploaded by Luis Miguel Fernández Salas)

The methodology, which uses statistical algorithms to generate continuous maps of seabed habitats by combining visual and geological data, is used for the first time in the Mediterranean and can become an international model to improve the management of marine protected areas. . The Seco de los Olivos is an area of ​​great biological diversity protected in the European Natura 2000 network.

"Only 3% of marine protected areas in the world have effective management systems that take into account the ecosystem as a whole and address all possible impacts. Most do not have management plans or focus on a few species or habitats, nor do they regulate all potential impacts. This lack of management makes them 'paper parks' ", explains Ricardo Aguilar, director of Research at Oceana Europe.

The Seco de los Olivos was protected in 2014, within the LIFE + INDEMARES project. The management plan is currently being developed, which will define the activities and uses that can be carried out in the area and will at the same time ensure an adequate level of protection of vulnerable ecosystems.

In the developed 3D model, each color refers to a different biological community, and all of them harbor structuring species and great biodiversity. The distribution of all these vulnerable ecosystems occupy the majority of the submarine mountain, which shows that it is a biodiversity hotspot in the Mediterranean.

"The results obtained in the Seco de los Olivos will serve to define the management plan for this protected area. The approach used in this work can be a model to follow in other marine protected areas and in particular in the Natura 2000 network, "says Ana de la Torriente, a researcher hired by the IEO and a scientist who has led the work.

They also idenified garbage in different areas (Photo: uploaded by Luis Miguel Fernández Salas)

The definition of deep habitats has been possible after several scientific expeditions that sampled the funds of Seco de los Olivos or Banco de Chella for almost ten years. By means of underwater robots, side scan sonar systems, dredgers and selective collection of samples, 13 main habitats have been identified.

The data obtained allowed to realize a predictive model that allows to locate in a map where the diverse communities are distributed, what facilitates the management of the space and the application of specific measures of conservation.

Trash detail (Photo: uploaded by Luis Miguel Fernández Salas)

Vulnerable ecosystems and protected species

In the Seco de los Olivos you can find vulnerable ecosystems and habitats as important as the coralline, the beds of rhodoliths, the forests of gorgonians and black corals, the reefs of cold water corals, the bamboo corals, the bottoms of sea feathers , aggregations of glass sponges, etc. All these faunal communities comply with the criteria defined by the FAO for Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VME). 

Carnivore sponge (Photo: uploaded by Luis Miguel Fernández Salas)

In addition, it shelters protected species such as the pilot whale (Globicephala melas), the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), the pig shark (Oxynotus centrina), the quelvacho (Centrophorus granulosus), the tree corals (Dendrophyllya spp.), the gorgonian candelabra (Ellisella paraplexauroides), the calyx sponge (Calyx nicaeensis), the carnivorous sponge (Lycopodina hypogea), the triton conch (Charonia lampas), the santiaguiño (Scyllarus arctus), etc.

Oceana and the IEO have already worked together on different projects. This type of collaboration between public institutions (or research organizations) and NGOs has proven to be very effective in advancing the conservation of singular spaces and vulnerable ecosystems.

The map has been published in the research journal Aquatic conservation: Marine and freshwater ecosystems.

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