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Sensitive deep sea coral reefs protected for the first time in the Mediterranean


30 Jan 2006, Rome, Italy –Three ecologically-important deep sea areas have been protected off the waters of Italy, Cyprus and Egypt, following a recent decision by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM).

The decision — a result of a WWF-led effort to support sustainable fisheries — legally requires all Mediterranean states to prevent bottom trawling fishing fleets from operating in the designated areas.

Bottom trawling is the primary threat to deep sea environments, due to the destructive nature of the technique. The nets completely destroy bottom habitats like cold-water coral reefs — some of which are thousands of years old — in a single trawl. The GFCM banned bottom trawling at depths beyond 1000m in February 2005.

Ongoing work by WWF, IUCN-The World Conservation Union, and the scientific community have highlighted the diversity, importance and need for protection of Mediterranean deep-sea ecosystems, and provided data and reports which have led to their protection at the most recent meeting of the GFCM.

“This is a major recognition for WWF and the scientific community who have been asking for a protection status of crucial deep seas areas in the Mediterranean,” said Sergi Tudela, Head of WWF-Mediterranean’s fisheries programme. “We welcome this commitment to responsible fisheries and the ecosystem.”

The three designated protected areas include the deepwater coral reef off Capo Santa Maria di Leuca, Italy, in the Ionian Sea, which is home to the rare white coral, Lophelia, as well as a Chemosynthesis-based ecosystem (an ecosystem that does not depend on the sun as a source of energy) offshore from the Nile Delta, and the spectacular Eratosthenes seamount, south of Cyprus, which hosts rare coral species.

“Deep water coral reefs are known to be important habitats for commercial species such as shrimps and congers,” said Tudela. “Protection of the ecosystems will benefit both biodiversity and fishing communities.”

The protection of the deep water coral reef off Capo Santa Maria di Leuca was achieved with the active support of an Italian fisherman association, AGCI Pesca.

“Declaring protection status is an important achievement for these unique areas and we hope that the GFCM will continue to support sustainable fisheries by declaring new protected sites in the very near future,” Tudela added.

“Trawling fleets are known to have destroyed similar deep sea ecosystems in Northern Atlantic waters. We must not let this happen in the Mediterranean.”


• The General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) is a subsidiary body of UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


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