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The sedimentary environment of deep-water Corals: characterisation of a fragile marine habitat in need of conservation


Deepwater corals, such as Lophelia pertusa, are found on fascinating mound structures along the European continental margin, where they create rich ecosystems. However, several reefs appear to be damaged by deepwater trawling, and need protection.

The Darwin mounds in the N Rockall Trough are the first to be protected through EU emergency measures under the Common Fisheries Policy (Aug. 2003). The province is awaiting the status of 'Special Area of Conservation', to be designated by the UK government under the Habitats Directive.

However, the factors influencing the distribution of deepwater corals are not well known, and the exact processes governing their growth and development are not clear. In order to support conservation measures, a better insight in these habitats is necessary. The aim of the project SEDCoral is to provide a detailed characterisation of the sedimentary environment of deepwater corals.

The study will consist of the detailed documentation of the Darwin mounds and a second province of small coral mounds in the area, chosen for comparison. Focus will be placed on the sedimentological characteristics of the coral environment. The information will be integrated in a GIS database, and the results communicated towards scientific and non-scientific end-users.

The project will be embedded within the FP6 IP HERMES. The issues will be tackled through the integration and detailed interpretation of existing data, and the acquisition of new specific information using high-level technology such as ROV observations and well-positioned sampling. The project outcome will reinforce European excellence in the fields of deepwater corals and continental slope sedimentology.

Through the project, the researcher will obtain training at a top-class research institute, which will increase her independence and expertise. She will receive opportunities for intense networking, which will contribute to a long-lasting cooperation between different European research centres.

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