Conservation and management of northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean maerl beds
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1. Maerl beds occur worldwide and are formed by an accumulation of unattached calcareous red algae (Rhodophyta). 2. Maerl-forming algae grow in a superficial living layer on sediments within the photic zone. 3. Maerl beds are spatially complex habitats with a high degree of species and trophic group diversity. 4. The European Commission's 'Habitats Directive' mandates the conservation management of two of the main European maerl-forming species, Phymatolithon calcareum and Lithothamnion corallioides. 5. Mediterranean maerl beds are to be considered for inclusion in national inventories of sites of conservation interest, as required by the SPABIM Protocol of the Barcelona Convention. 6. In spite of their importance, and the requirement for their conservation management, European maerl grounds suffer a variety of anthropogenic perturbations including direct exploitation through extraction, fishing impacts and chemical pollution by organic matter and excess nutrients. 7. The ecology of northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean maerl beds has received little attention, in contrast to other marine communities (e.g. kelp forests, sea-grass meadows). 8. Key conservation and management measures proposed include: the recognition that maerl beds are non-renewable resources and cannot sustain direct exploitation; prohibitions on the use of towed gear on maerl grounds; moratoria on the issue of further permits for the siting of aquaculture units above maerl grounds; monitoring of existing exploited or impacted maerl beds; the designation of 'no-take' reserves; measures to limit the impacts that might affect water quality above maerl beds; a programme of monitoring of the 'health' of European maerl beds; an awareness campaign on the biological importance of maerl beds; a higher conservation status for maerl habitats and maerl-forming species in European legislation; and further research on maerl ecosystems. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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