OSPAR announces increased protection for iconic biodiversity in NE Atlantic

The Oslo Paris Commission for the Protection of the NE Atlantic (OSPAROSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic made up of representatives of the Governments of the 15 signatory nations.) has announced, 19th December 2013, increased protection for species and habitats in the North East Atlantic. Their press release states: “Today the 15 countries which are party to the international OSPAR Convention together with the European Union have taken another step forward in protecting the marine life of the North‐East Atlantic Ocean. Agreement has been reached on a series of Recommendations for the protection and conservation of a wide range of marine species and habitats that are considered as at risk in the North‐East Atlantic.

The twelve Recommendations have been adopted to protect some iconic species with which we are all familiar – including the majestic blue whale and two species of sea turtle that come to the North‐East Atlantic to feed. There are some species that are perhaps less well‐known but equally remarkable, like the Ocean Quahog — a deep sea clam that has been known to live for as long as five hundred years. The Recommendations also cover a series of habitats, including littoral chalk communities — one of the best examples of which are the white cliffs of Dover.

The threats that these species and habitats face range widely with the many uses of the sea — from local scale physical damage to their environment, to plastic debris finding its way from land into the sea. Plastic bags and other marine litter can be a significant threat to several of the species, such as the leatherback and loggerhead turtles.

The Recommendations cover a range of actions, such as identifying and protecting areas that have particular importance, taking measures to reduce pressures from specific human activities, or conducting scientific research to increase our understanding of these species. The agreement reached provides the opportunity for the OSPAR Contracting Parties to work together to address these threats in order to improve the status of these species and habitats.”

The habitats and species to be protected under this announcement are: Littoral chalk communities; Sabellaria spinulosaSabellaria spinulosa Also known as the Ross Worm, this is a marine species of worm living in the seabed and building tubes of sand in which it lives. Usually encountered as individuals, this species sometimes behaves gregariously and, when it does so, the tubes which it builds can concrete and form sizeable structures on the seabed of several centimetres thickness, and these structures can persist for many years. These structures are known as "biogenic reefs" and are particularly important because they form a habitat (see, Biotope) around which many other marine species begin to live (i.e. the habitat affords shelter and food). These "reefs" can occur where the substrata of the seabed is made of sand, pebbles or gravel, and the Sabellaria spinulosa reefs are classified as an Annex I habitat under the EU Habitats Directive, 92/43/EEC. An Annex I habitat is subject to conservation measures, amongst which are that the habitat must be maintained in a favourable condition. reefs (Ross wormRoss worm Ross worms build tubes made out of sand or shell fragments, and sometimes many thousands of worms all build tubes which clump together forming large reefs, which are an important habitat for a range of other life. They are very fast growing and can form thick crusts over just one summer. These worms feed by catching tiny food particles from the water.); Modiolus modiolusModiolus modiolus The horse mussel Modiolus modiolus forms dense beds at depths of 5-70m in fully saline, often moderately tide-swept areas off northern and western parts of the British Isles. Although it is a widespread and common species, true beds forming a distinctive biotope are much more limited and are not known south of the Humber and Severn estuaries. Off North Sea coasts occasional beds occur between Berwickshire and the Humber, and probably elsewhere. M. modiolus is a long-lived species and individuals within beds are frequently 25 years old or more. Juvenile M. modiolus are heavily preyed upon, especially by crabs and starfish, until they are about 3-6 years old, but predation is low thereafter. There have been no studies of the recovery of damaged beds but full recovery after severe damage would undoubtedly take many years at best and may not occur at all. beds (Horse mussel); Ostrea edulis and Ostrea edulis beds (European native oyster); Ocean quahog (Arctica islandica); Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea); Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta); Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus); Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus); Northern right whale (Eubalaena glacialis); Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena); Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri).

Note: The OSPAR Commission was set up by the 1992 OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North‐East Atlantic, which unified and up‐dated the 1972 Oslo and 1974 Paris Conventions. It brings together the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, together with the European Union.

Source: OSPAR Press Release, 19th December 2013 www.ospar.org

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