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Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs)

Coral and Sponge VMEs in Arctic and Sub-Arctic Waters – Distribution and Threats

image of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs)

This report presents results from the NovasArc project that has collated data on the distribution of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters. Eleven VMEs were identified, based on management goals for coral and sponge communities. Many of the vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) in the study area has a wide distribution. Soft and hard bottom sponge aggregations, hard bottom gorgonians, sublittoral sea pen communities, and cauliflower corals are predicted to cover > 20% of the study area shallower than 1000 meters. Of the anthropogenic activities in the study area bottom trawling represents the main threat to the VMEs. The compilation of trawling activity in the study area shows that fisheries mainly occurs shallower than 1000 meters and that 50 to 60% of the seafloor is not targeted. However, 30% of the seafloor has experienced intermediate to very high fishing effort. In general, the VMEs shows a larger overlap with fishing when the risk analysis is based on areas with an optimal habitat suitability. Using this conservative threshold to model the distribution of VMEs the results indicate that most VMEs have experienced an intermediate to high level of fishing in less than 40% of their distribution area in the whole study area.

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Study area

The study area includes the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Norway and Iceland, and the shelf and slope of the Faroe Islands, and the Svalbard archipelago. Areas outside of these countries were also included (i.e. the NEAFC regulatory area), and in total the study area covers the Norwegian Sea, The Iceland Sea, parts of the Barents Sea and the North Atlantic (Figure 1). It can be divided into three main basins separated by the northern extension of the mid Atlantic Ridge and the Greenland-Iceland-Scotland Ridge (the GIS ridge).

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