Many ideas for EU-funded projects are born in the quest to further scientific research, particularly in areas where little information exists.
The CoralFISH project has uncovered new information on how fish use their habitats in the deep sea. To do so, project partners assessed the interaction between corals, fish and fisheries, and then used this information to develop monitoring and predictive modelling tools for ecosystem-based management in the deep waters of Europe and beyond. They also looked at coral systems that had been damaged by human activity such as deep sea trawling, and found ways to protect them from further damage.
The project was coordinated by Dr Sadhbh Baxter and Dr Anthony Grehan from the department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the National University of Ireland. It brought together a consortium of 16 partners comprising deep-sea fisheries biologists, ecosystem researchers/modellers, economists and a fishing industry SME, representing 11 countries from all over Europe.
This unique project received funding of EUR 10.8 million, of which EUR 6.4 million came from the European Commission. This enabled, for the first time, the quantification of coral habitats in six areas - off the west coast of Ireland, Iceland, Eastern Norwegian Sea, the Bay of Biscay (France), around the Azores and in the Ionian Sea (Italy). Models where developed to predict where corals could be found, which led to the discovery of a previously unknown sponge ground in Norwegian waters.
Predicting the whereabouts of corals will help policy makers understand how to best use marine space - for fishing, telecommunications cables and mineral exploration, while also protecting the environment.
Dr. Anthony Grehan, who specialises in deep sea ecology, says, 'The need to develop the tools and a strategy for the implementation of maritime spatial planning has become increasingly urgent. This is because of human activity in the deep sea, which is expanding, for example, in fishing, oil and gas exploration, as well as potential mineral mining. Therefore, competition for deep-sea resources has become more intense while the need to ensure adequate conservation of biodiversity and genetic variety is a priority for the future health of the planet.'
The project is the first European effort to develop standardised video analysis for deep seafloor mapping, having developed a software programme called COVER (Customisable Video Image Observation Record). The best elements of this have been incorporated into software at the French Institute for Exploration at Sea (Ifremer).
Although CoralFISH has now ended, elements of the project will carry on through further funding from the Horizon 2020 framework programme for research and innovation. Further information about the results of the project will be published in a Special Edition of Deep Sea Research due out in early 2014.
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More information: CoralFISH www.eu-fp7-coralfish.net/
Horizon 2020 ec.europa.eu/research/horizon2020/index_en.cfm