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The importance of ecosystems surrounding the gulf of Cadiz submarine vents under study

To determine if there are places of natural Community interest around the Submarine Vents in the Gulf of Cadiz is the purpose of the subproject conducted by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) through the Malaga Oceanographic Centre. The Cadiz Vents project began in January of 2009 and it is a part of an even larger project called INDEMARES

It "is about seeing the importance of the area and its surrounding ecosystem in order to decide if we should request its inclusion in the marine areas of the Natura 2000 Network and to take measures to preserve or protect it", explains Víctor Díaz-del-Río, Researcher, responsible for this part of the study and belonging to the IEO Malaga offices. In 2001, in the Gulf of Cadiz, the researchers of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, together with Professors from the University of Cadiz and the Institute for Geology and Mining performed a significant geological discovery. They found an area of approximately 2,000 Km2 covered with mud volcanoes and submarine vents extending throughout two small submarine ridges that run from great depths (about 2,000 m) to just 100 m deep. The closest point to the coast of these two ridges is located at approximately 88Km West from the City of Cadiz. These submarine mountains are a result of the pressure generated by the collision between the African and the European plates. Due to this pressure, methane-laden fluids that remain underground find weaker areas by which to escape to the seabed’s surface. This is what is called submarine vents. These vents look like cement pipes and are caused by the activity of the Proteobacteria that consumes methane and favours the precipitation of the carbonates that form these vents. Unique characteristics Since 2006, and due to the area’s unique characteristics - dominated by strong deep currents from the Mediterranean, these waters are rich in organic nutrients and warmer that the Atlantic superficial waters - scientists decided to study these habitats from an ecosystem approach as well as a geological one. That is, “Classifying the species inhabiting this seabed, determining its biological value and the inter-species relationships, their contribution to biodiversity and the risks for their survival”, explains Díaz-del-Río. Deep water corals such as the Lophelia Pertusa were found, this is a very slow growing coral of immense ecological value, as well as diverse types of sponges and cnidarians, gorgonian and crinoids, polychaeta, etc.; all of which makes it an area of rich biodiversity. Even then, some of the areas were classified as of Prime Interest because of the fragility of the environment housing the different ecosystems. Now, and since January 2009, scientists are performing a comprehensive study of this area of the Gulf that occupies an area of over 3,000 Km2 “and its potential as a source of valuable diversity”. Among his previous hypothesis, Víctor Díaz-del-Río and the rest of the scientific team expect to find “associations of species unknown to Science, relic species or genuine live fossils whose existence had been relegated to hidden areas of the seabed and that, thanks to the methane expulsions, the adequate conditions for their survival exist in this special seabed. Later on, proposals must be made for conservation or protection structures as well as environmental studies so that the responsible institutions may implement the measures they deem appropriate”. Cadiz Vents is a part of a larger project called INDEMARES which is managed by the Fundación Biodiversidad (Biodiversity Foundation) that analyses nine other areas of the Spanish seabed as potential areas of the European Natura 2000 Network and involving, among others, the CSIC, WWF-Adena, Oceana, the Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs or the Coordinator for research of Marine Mammals. This LIFE project has a total funding of about 16 million Euros and it is scheduled to be completed by 2013.