Improving our understanding of deep-sea marine habitats


Little is known about deep-sea habitats - the inaccessibility of these areas means that research is limited and definitions of underwater areas are unclear. JNCC’s Marine Ecosystems team have been working with other European experts to improve these definitions and attended a workshop in Bergen, Norway, to address these issues.


The workshop focused on four habitats: coral gardens (Figure 1), deep-sea sponge aggregations, seapen and burrowing megafauna communities, and Lophelia pertusa reefs (Figure 2). These habitats are provisionally defined within the OSPAR List of Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats, but understanding where they occur is limited. These habitat types are also listed as priorities for protection within the UK MPA network. Clearer understanding of the ecology and distribution of these fragile habitats is paramount to ensure Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) can be successfully created to protect them.

 Figure 1: Coral garden habitat on Anton Dohrn Seamount © JNCC  Lophelia pertusa reef on dead Lophelia framework on Anton Dohrn Seamount © JNCC
Figure 1. Coral garden habitat on Anton Dohrn Seamount © JNCC Figure 2. Lophelia pertusa reef on dead Lophelia framework on Anton Dohrn Seamount © JNCC


The four habitats considered are all characterised by groups of species, such as corals or sponges, but the habitat components can vary with species type, geographical region, depth strata and substrate type. Current definitions do not adequately describe this variation and the aims of the workshop were to further subdivide the broader definitions.


Researchers and marine habitat specialists from seven of the OSPAR Contracting Party countries attended to present their research findings on the benthic habitats, including research undertaken at the Faroe-Shetland Channel, Anton Dohrn Seamount, the Bay of Biscay and the Kattegat-Skagerrak region. Follow-up work was completed in groups to provide suggestions for updating the definitions. Ideas included splitting the coral garden habitat definition into sub-types to include soft-substrate and hard-substrate varieties, and changing the Lophelia pertusa reefs definition to include higher densities of other cold-water coral species such as Madrepora oculata and Solenosmilia variabilis, which research suggested was common in some of the NE Atlantic regions.

The workshop was successful in coming up with a number of suggestions for each of the four habitats. Supporting research and papers will be used to reinforce the proposals and these findings will be recorded in a summary report to the OSPAR Commission. If the recommendations are accepted, updates to the habitats definitions will be made. 


Contact File


Laura Robson

Marine Habitats Adviser

Tel: +44 (0) 1733 866929


| JNCC - Adviser to Government on Nature Conservation | Site Map | Search | Legal | Feedback | List Access Keys |