Vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs): Coral and sponge VMEs in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters – Distribution and threats

[from Deep-Sea Life Vol 13]

Buhl-Mortensen, L., Burgos, J.M., Steingrund, P., Buhl-Mortensen, P., Ólafsdóttir, S.H. and Ragnarsson, S.Á. (2019)

Nordic Council of Ministers

This report presents results from the NovasArc project that has collated data on the distribution of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters. Eleven VMEs were identified, based on management goals for coral and sponge communities. Many of the VMEs in the study area have a wide distribution. Soft and hard bottom sponge aggregations, hard bottom gorgonians, sublittoral sea pen communities, and cauliflower corals are predicted to cover > 20% of the study area shallower than 1000 meters.

Of the anthropogenic activities in the study area bottom trawling represents the main threat to the VMEs. The compilation of trawling activity in the study area shows that fisheries mainly occurs shallower than 1000 meters and that 50 to 60% of the seafloor is not targeted. However, 30% of the seafloor has experienced intermediate to very high fishing effort.

In general, the VMEs shows a larger overlap with fishing when the risk analysis is based on areas with an optimal habitat suitability. Using this conservative threshold to model the distribution of VMEs the results indicate that most VMEs have experienced an intermediate to high level of fishing in less than 40% of their distribution area in the whole study area.

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