Problems to be solved
The presence of coral reef ecosystems in European waters is as yet unknown to many of the stakeholders. Europe's coral reefs mostly lie within the Exclusive Economic Zone and are, therefore subject to potential threats from increasing commercial activities in Europe's deeper waters. For the first time, these ecosystems now face the prospect of serious anthropogenic impact. It is likely that the most serious impacts will result from deep-sea trawling which is already operational to depths of at least 2,000 m on the European Margin - spanning the full bathymetric range of deep-water coral (DWC) ecosystems. The second key potential threat is related to the expanding hydrocarbon exploration and production industry that, like deep-water trawling, is already active to depths of at least 2,000 m around Europe and elsewhere worldwide. This potential conflict between industry and environment has already caused concern; witness the recent controversial debates between conservationists and industrialists concerning the potentially irreversible damage to reefs.
This debate remains unresolved and could present a barrier to future economic development in this sector until sufficient independent research is carried out to:
1) ascertain the potential sensitivities and vulnerability of the coral ecosystem,
2) identify the most significant conservation issues involved, and
3) meet the needs of environmental managers and regulatory authorities by recommending the measures necessary to permit sustainable resource development alongside effective conservation in the vicinity of these enigmatic cold reef communities. Therefore, the results obtained through the ACES project will have a strong strategic importance in the future sustainable use of biological offshore resources.
Scientific objectives and approach
To cover the variation in environmental factors and interactions at ocean boundaries which enable the development of DWC ecosystems in the Northeast Atlantic, the ACES community will focus on five selected key flagship areas along this latitudinal gradient - Galicia Bank, Porcupine Slope, Rockall Trough, Skagerrak, Norwegian Shelf. Our aim is a margin-wide environmental baseline assessment of the status of Europe's deep-water coral margin to provide recommendations for essential monitoring and methodology requirements for future sustainable development. To meet that challenge, ACES will focus on three main scientific objectives that will provide the scientific data necessary to carry out our final objective that is to provide impartial practical recommendations for enlightened management of this spectacular deep-water ecosystem:
1. To map the structural and genetic variability, the framework-constructing potential, and the longevity of DWC ecosystems
2: To assess hydrographic and other local physical forcing factors affecting BBL sediment particle dynamics and POC supply in the vicinity of DWC ecosystems
3: To describe the DWC ecosystem, its dynamics and functioning; investigate coral biology and behaviour and assess coral sensitivity to natural and anthropogenic stressors
4: To assign a sensitivity code, identify the major conservation issues (and increase public awareness), and make recommendations for the sustainable use of the DWC ecosystem.
The pan-European distribution of DWC ecosystems on the continental slope, deep shelf and fjord settings indicates the significance of ACES at the European level. This study brings together a number of 'cutting edge' technologies, e.g. ROV and near bottom towed platforms for non-destructive video and photographic surveying, and autonomous instrumented lenders, which are capable of continuously recording data for up to one. In addition, the combination of geology, physical oceanography, sedimentology and biogeochemistry with biology (including molecular genetic techniques and in site behavioural studies), makes this multidisciplinary research, a truly integrated whole ecosystem approach to the study of this unique deepwater habitat. Innovation to the benefit of the European Community will include the novelty of discovery of an ecosystem that lies in a transitional position between coast, shallow shelf and bathyal environments.
Funding SchemeCSC - Cost-sharing contracts
452 96 Stroemstad
SO14 3ZH Southampton
1790 AB Den Burg
PA37 1QA Oban
L69 3BX Liverpool
SO14 3ZH Southampton