The first results of the research expedition, as part of the action “Protecting Aegean Coralligene”, shows very promising results regarding a biodiversity hotspot within these hidden marine habitats!
Within only the first 2km of surveys with advanced equipment, such as a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and sonar, the international team onboard already identified over 250 species of marine flora and fauna in the mesophotic zone (at about 100m depth).
We would like to share with you some images of the “underwater gardens” that consist of a species known as the Phosphorescent sea pen (Pennatula phosphorea). Sea pens are marine invertebrates made up of colonies of very small animals known as polyps, each a few millimeters in size. They belong to the same group as corals, but unlike their relatives, sea pens can “walk” along the seafloor to seek for better feeding grounds. They roll along the substrate until they find the right place to settle down and nail their “inflatable” foot into the sand. By expanding the foot, the colony safely anchors to the ground.
Pennatula phosphorea is listed by the IUCN Red List as a “vulnerable species” with a decreasing population. Their distribution around the Aegean Sea still remains unknown, making them extremely susceptible to bottom trawling and other human impacts.
In the framework of the action “Protecting Aegean Coralligenous”, the research expedition is currently ongoing onboard the “Aegean Explorer”. In collaboration between Archipelagos – Institute of Marine Conservation, Oceana, the biology department of the University of Essex, the United Nations Regional Action Center for the Mediterranean (UNEP / MAP – SPA RAC) and the Laboratory of Physical Geography of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, with the support of the Pure Ocean Fund, we will continue to map the areas of these valuable habitats in the Aegean Sea and other regions of the NE Mediterranean.
Our ultimate aim is to address the largest threat faced by these important habitats, which are the destructive fisheries by trawlers who can destroy an entire ecosystem in just one pass. This can only be done with the immediate enforcement of the existing legislation, according to which it is prohibited to fish with towed gear (trawlers) in vulnerable and protected marine habitats. With this implemented, the survival of these biodiversity hotspots will be ensured.