Mediterranean Cold-Water Corals: Past, Present and Future - 46 Conservation of Cold-Water Corals in the Mediterranean: Current Status and Future Prospects for Improvement
The Mediterranean deep-sea contains a mosaic of ecosystems and habitat types. Among them, cold-water corals provide shelter to a large and unique variety of organisms as well as ecosystem services. Scientific findings over the last decade have strengthened this fact and further supported the identification of cold-water corals habitats as sites of conservation interest and high vulnerability. Given the semi-enclosed nature of the Mediterranean basin and the significant anthropogenic pressure on its ecosystems, most, cold-water corals species have been listed as threatened as they are found at areas which are frequently the focus of resource exploitation (e.g. deep-sea fisheries, oil and gas prospections among others) or are affected directly by other human activities (e.g. marine debris, pollution events) as well as by the increasing impacts of climate change including ocean acidification. Nowadays, conservation and protection of such important species and ecosystems largely depend upon the proper development and implementation of marine policies. Here, we analyze the most important policy framework in place to protect these species in the Mediterranean Sea and we consider the most recent developments and opportunities for improving the situation. The management of cold-water corals involves important challenges. This is partly due to their remote location, limited political awareness, as well as incomplete information available on the occurrence, distribution and resilience of these cold-water coral species and their associated fauna, to impacts and disturbances. Specific actions are discussed to increase the protection of deep-sea ecosystems hosting cold-water corals through good governance and to establish effective area-based conservation measures to safeguard Mediterranean deep-sea biodiversity.