An important action is underway in the Aegean in the island complex of Fourni, focusing on coral ecosystems of global environmental importance, but also of unique beauty. These habitats, located in the deep waters of the Aegean, are in immediate need of protection as a large percentage of them have already been destroyed by trawling fishing gear. The unknown location of those that survive, put them at risk of irreversible destruction before we can discover their existence and location.


To urgently protect these ecosystems, the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation and its international scientific partners have spent the last three years making intensive and challenging efforts to locate and produce detailed maps of these unknown ecosystems in many regions of the Greek seas. This work and research continues without interruption despite the many technical difficulties that arise from research in deep waters with strong sea currents and adverse weather conditions.


After many months of preparation, Archipelagos Institute joined forces with French organisation Under The Pole which, after undertaking research in deep waters globally (Arctic, Canary Islands, Caribbean), are now focusing on important areas of the Mediterranean, such as the area of ​​Fourni.


For several weeks, eight divers who specialise in deep scientific diving have been exploring daily depths of over 100 metres, accompanied by professional photographers and filmmakers, as well as a CNN film crew. Using specialised protocols and equipment they sample specific reefs in selected hotspots that have already been mapped and recorded by the Archipelagos Institute, highlighting these ecosystems of international importance that are in immediate need of protection.


The common goal is to utilise new technologies to cover many of the large gaps in knowledge about these unknown and important ecosystems, which by luck have managed to survive to this day in the Greek seas, despite the absence of any protective framework. It is also important to understand the effects of climate change and of destructive human activity.


After the sampling, specialised analyses will take place in the laboratories of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS, France), University of Essex (UK), Center for Island Research and Environmental Observatory (CRIOBE), University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain), and University of Washington (USA).


The analyses include, among many others, the so-called environmental DNA (eDNA), analysis of currents and the underwater soundscape, detailed analysis of biodiversity and species mortality, and more general impacts caused by fishing and other anthropogenic pressures.

In this great effort, the contribution of the coastal fishermen and the Municipality of Fourni is invaluable. For over 20 years, the Archipelagos Institute has developed a relationship of mutual trust, close cooperation and exchange of knowledge with the fishermen and the authorities of the island. Only by working closely together the ongoing destruction of these productive marine ecosystems can be halted, before it is too late.


Corals and associated important habitats, which are found from 70-250 metres deep in the Greek seas, are some of the most complex, biodiverse and productive ecosystems of the Mediterranean, but also the most unknown. Although their growth rate is extremely slow (a few millimetres/year), it is remarkable that extensive coral colonies that are several thousand years old are being discovered.


This needed initiative has one main objective: the urgent protection of coral ecosystems in the deep waters of the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean. As many of these fragile ecosystems have been largely destroyed, this is a race against time. If effective conservation measures are not enforced immediately, these unique ecosystems that have survived for thousands of years will be irreversibly destroyed by humans before their existence is even discovered.