Marine habitats have greatly regressed in the Baltic Sea due to extensive eutrophication and the influence of increased amounts of toxic substances. The Finnish exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was established recently, after the designation of the Natura 2000 network, and only a few preliminary surveys of underwater habitat types have been made in these areas. Key marine habitat types need to be investigated to assist compliance with the Habitats Directive.
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Seabird species in the Mediterranean are subject to different kinds of threats. Important common issues concern: insufficient knowledge and protection of seabirds in their marine environment; predation by introduced mammals, such as rats and cats; predation or competition for food and habitat with other bird species, such as the Yellow-legged gull (Larus michaellis); accidental capture and mortality by fishing activities, such as long-lining and gill netting; loss of breeding habitat quality; risk of oil spills and chemical pollution; and over-fishing of food sources.
The conservation status of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is considered of low concern in Madeiran waters. This species of dolphin, however, is being found more frequently in the low-depth inshore area between the Madeira and Desertas islands and is subject to several threats resulting from human activities.
The growing popularity of whale-watching and a rise in shipping traffic and recreational boats in the archipelago are increasing the pressure in the concerned area. These pressures may contribute, in the medium/long term, to a negative change in the conservation status of the bottlenose dolphin. To avoid whale-watching growing to an unsustainable level, it is important to establish operating areas and designate limits on the number of tours. All the cetaceans found in the Madeira archipelago are potentially subject to the negative impacts found in the Madeira archipelago are potentially subject to the negative impacts from this activity. The precautionary principle should be considered in order to maintain or halt eventual changes to their present conservation status.
The surveillance of the conservation status of cetacean species in Madeira has been conducted only in the inshore waters because of a lack of money.
Therefore, there is a lack of knowledge of the offshore marine environment of the Madeira Exclusive Economic Zone. In order to fill this gap, evaluation of the potential threats (such as fisheries) to cetaceans acting in the offshore environment of the Madeira EEZ is needed.
Other areas in the archipelago may also be candidates for marine Natura 2000 sites for this species. The creation of the marine Natura 2000 sites for bottlenose dolphin should take into consideration a wider perspective of the Atlantic population of the species shared by Madeira, Azores and the Canary Islands, which will clearly contribute to the improvement of the ecological coherency and connectivity of the Natura 2000 network of marine sites in the Atlantic.
The Celtic Sea, to the south and south-west of Ireland, south-western England and Wales, and north-west France, is a rich ecosystem that encompasses deep water features such as seamounts and canyons, as well as varied coastal habitats such as tidal estuaries and rocky reefs. These features and habitats support a wealth of biodiversity, including cold water corals, sharks, cetaceans, and commercially important fin and shellfish species such as scallop, crab, shrimp, tuna, anglerfish and salmon.
As with oceans and seas globally, the health of the marine ecosystem in the Celtic Sea is under significant threat from a variety of external pressures. This project links together the people who live and work in and around the Celtic Sea to find a way to manage their activities (fisheries, shipping, recreation and tourism, renewables, offshore infrastructure) sustainably using the ecosystem approach. This is integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way.
One of the main constraints to the enlargement of the Natura 2000 network to marine environments is the lack of research on marine habitats and species far from the coast. Few organisations or institutions have the necessary means to undertake such work. The designation of SCIs has thus been affected by the lack of relevant data on specific species such as cetaceans and seabirds.
An Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is an area stretching to 200 nautical miles from the coast, over which a state has special rights to marine resources. Portuguese EEZs include one of the highest abundances of common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) in Europe and are an important wintering ground for the Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus).
A total of 7 SCIs (55400 ha) and 7 SACs (58500 ha) have been created in the Portuguese coastal and marine environment. Nevertheless, political and logistical difficulties have led to a significant delay in drawing up further SCI proposals in costal and marine areas. The availability of specific information needed for the implementation of appropriate management measures for cetacean and seabird species is also quite low.
The Neptune grass (Posidonia oceanica) habitat is declinig in the Mediterranean basin as a consequence of human pressure along the coasts. Such regression of grasslands is caused by different factors, such as erosion cause by trawling (which is illegal inshore) and scraping by the anchors of pleasure boats. Both SCIs have deteriorated as a result of these pressures.
The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is a Mediterranean cetacean listed as “vulnerable” in IUCN Red List. It is estimated that 200-300 individuals live in the project area. As a coastal species, bottlenose dolphins are the most threatened by habitat degradation and loss. The main threats come from coastal urbanization, port construction, boat traffic, shipping, pollution by industrial and agriculture activities, overfishing and overexploitation. The Ligurian Sea and the Portofino coastal area are subject to intensive boat traffic, especially during the summer season, which significantly increases underwater noise pollution. This kind of impact represents a serious threat for cetaceans as they communicate and orient by underwater sonar-waves. Moreover, human interaction with bottlenose dolphins has to be regulated during the summer season when newborns and calves are present with adult individuals. In the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of Portofino protection measures have not been carried out in the absence of impact assessments and monitoring. as “vulnerable” in IUCN Red List. It is estimated that 200-300 individuals live in the project area. As a coastal species, bottlenose dolphins are the most threatened by habitat degradation and loss. The main threats come from coastal urbanization, port construction, boat traffic, shipping, pollution by industrial and agriculture activities, overfishing and overexploitation. The Ligurian Sea and the Portofino coastal area are subject to intensive boat traffic, especially during the summer season, which significantly increases underwater noise pollution. This kind of impact represents a serious threat for cetaceans as they communicate and orient by underwater sonar-waves. Moreover, human interaction with bottlenose dolphins has to be regulated during the summer season when newborns and calves are present with adult individuals. In the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of Portofino protection measures have not been carried out in the absence of impact assessments and monitoring.
Areas outside territorial waters have not been studied in a context of the Birds and Habitats Directives either from a species or habitat perspective. Broad-scale sediment and bathymetric charts indicate potential reef areas in all three proposed project territories: Klaipeda-Ventspils Plateau, Sambian Plateau, Klaipeda Bank. Reefs are included in the Annex I of the Habitats Directive.
The complex topography of the seabed means that all three project areas are important for fish species, such as pelagic-neritic anadromous twaite shad (Alosa fallax) or demersal anadromous common whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus), which are protected by the Habitats Directive. Both species spawn in the freshwater Curonian Lagoon, but during spawning migrations inhabit some Baltic Sea coastal areas in Lithuania. It is largely unknown how both species use their habitats during the juvenile feeding and maturation stages; therefore fish inventory surveys are necessary to provide background data on these offshore habitats. Such information will enable the development and implementation of conservation measures. A bird inventory will focus on the identification of the staging areas for the wintering and/or migratory birds, which meet national SPA designation criteria (i.e. exceed 1% of the biogeographical population), including the red-throated diver (Gavia stellata), black-throated diver (Gavia arctica), velvet scoter (Melanitta fusca), long-tailed duck (Clangulahyemalis), razorbill (Alca torda), guillemot (Uria allge) and black guillemot (Cepphus grylle). Should important staging areas of other seabird species be recorded, it is intended that these will be incorporated into the Natura 2000 network.
The Gulf of Riga is one of the most naturally diverse areas of the Baltic Sea. The coastal part of the gulf supports reef habitats that host various rare plant, fish and invertebrate communities. These habitats also play a major role in maintaining the functioning of the gulf’s ecosystem through, for example, nutrient assimilation. Both the Gulf of Riga and the Irbe Strait, which forms the main exit out of the gulf to the Baltic Sea, are used as bird stop-over and feeding sites during spring and autumn migration; and as wintering areas for significant numbers of European migratory birds i.e. more than two million individuals annually. The project area also includes several important bird areas, regularly holding more than 20000 waterbirds. There is a lack of knowledge about the biodiversity value of the offshore parts of the project area, resulting from a lack of monitoring. This lack also means it is not currently possible to quantify the negative impacts on the biodiversity of the Gulf of Riga. Nevertheless, it is known that main threats to the habitat and associated species are from non-native species and from eutrophication – both a result of diffuse pollution from land-use changing the nutrient balance of the ecosystem and its species composition. A further threat arises from oil spills from shipping that can cause clumping of bird feathers and damaging seabirds’ habitats.
Neptune grass (Posidonia oceanica) underwater meadows are a priority habitat listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive. Some 95% of these meadows are found in six Natura 2000 network marine sites (SCIs) in the Andalusia. Conservation actions within these SCIs will guarantee the conservation of practically all Posidonia oceanica meadows, however, planned management of the meadows remains limited. A management plan is required for the marine meadows that harmonises nature conservation with economic and social development needs in the area. Stakeholder participation will be a crucial success factor for the management plan’s design and implementation.
The LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater project (LIFE06 NAT/MT/000097) set a precedent for undertaking seabird research and conservation in Malta, with intensive fieldwork undertaken to ascertain key feeding and rafting areas for the Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) breeding colony at Rdum tal-Madonna, the largest of its kind in Malta. The research for this project was undertaken with the aim of trialing methods to identify Marine Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for this species and other seabird species, which will help the Maltese government designating Marine Special Protected Areas (SPAs). As a second output, the project has created a roadmap for the Maltese government to fulfill its obligations of designating Marine SPAs for all of its internationally important seabird colonies.
The Slovenian sea is home to a significant portion (11.4 % or around 2 000 individuals in non-breeding period) of the biogeographical population of Mediterranean shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii). Other seabirds, such as the Mediterranean shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) and Mediterranean gull (Larus melanocephalus) can also be found here in populations of up to 1 000 individuals, or 1% or more of their biogeographical population. Because of this, the area deserves special conservation attention.
The area’s lack of any legal conservation status, however, poses a major threat to the favourable conservation status of significant part of the Mediterranean shag population. According to the relevant EU and BirdLife guidelines, knowledge of the distribution, population densities, flight routes and seasonal dynamics of Mediterranean Shag is required in order to identify a new marine dynamics of Mediterranean Shag is required in order to identify a new marine IBA/SPA. However, throughout the designation of a new IBA/SPA, the overall conservation status of the species in Slovenian sea must also be improved.
The endangered status sharks and rays in the Mediterranean Sea was highlighted by the IUCN study, ‘Red List 2007 Assessment of the conservation status of cartilaginous fishes (Chondrichthyans) in the Mediterranean’. The study shows that although the Mediterranean is a semi-enclosed sea, it hosts a diverse range of chondrichthyan – an estimated 80 species, comprising 45 species of sharks. At the heart of the Mediterranean region, Italy hosts 43 species of shark. The IUCN study found that the region has the highest percentage of threatened sharks and rays in the world. Around 42% of the 71 species evaluated are included on the Red List of endangered species (under the categories ‘Critically Threatened’, ‘Endangered’ or ‘Vulnerable’). The main threat to their survival is fishing, both commercial and leisure, in several bordering countries and in Italian seas in particular.