The “Aegean Explorer” crew continues with the “Protecting Aegean Coralligenous” project, in cooperation with expert organisations and universities. Our aim is to actively discover and map the location of coralligenous habitats of the Aegean Sea. In this challenging effort, the active role of local fishermen from the Aegean islands, particularly the island of Fourni, is invaluable.
Out of our most important findings is the discovery of extensive black coral forests which we located at depths of around 100m. Greatly threatened by trawlers who drag heavy fishing gear across the sea floor, the black coral is “on paper” a protected species in great need for real protection measures to be actively enforced.
However, Greek legislation does not prohibit this type of fishing gear in the area where this forest was located. Even though Greek authorities are legally required to have already mapped threatened and protected marine habitats listed under multiple European and International conservation frameworks and directives, they have not held up their obligations. Therefore, these black coral forests face the risk of being destroyed at any moment by trawling activities which are lamentably still considered legal.
The black coral Antipathella subpinnata, an ancient animal species aged to exceed 4000 years, still survives in the seas and oceans of the planet even though its growth rate is remarkably low (less than 1mm per year). Black coral forests are considered crucial habitats for other marine species including sharks, rays and squids which lay their eggs within these coral forests.
This currently almost unknown species not only plays a very important ecological role, it was also very popular for its medicinal properties as well as its material properties used for jewelry making in ancient Greece.
However, the question remains: How is it possible to protect our seas if we are unaware of what lives in them?