Ricardo Aguilar Rubio and Helena Álvarez Rodríguez, OCEANA; Pere Masqué Barri, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona; Luis Sánchez Tocino, University of Granada; Allen H. Andrews, National Ocean and Atmospher Administration-Fisheries; María López Acosta and Célia Sitjà Poch, Centro d’ Estudis Avançats de Blanes (CEAB-CSIC).
The candelabrum gorgonian (‘Ellisella paraplexauroides’) is a rare coral of up to two meters height, with relatively few specimens irregularly distributed throughout the Atlantic-Mediterranean region. The Mediterranean harbors just one population, a singular relict of the Pleistocene which survives on the shallow shelf (18-40 m) of the Chafarinas Islands (Spain), where abundant individuals form a habitat of high ecological value that is unique in the sea basin. Despite the recent inclusion of this landmark species in the threatened or endangered list, even the basic aspects of its biology and ecology remain largely unknown. The only conservation study made to date reveals that the Chafarinas population is being seriously damaged by the local artisanal fishing fleet, which fishes daily with trammels, lines and trawls over the sea bed of gorgonians. In this project, eight Spanish and international researchers from five institutions will pursue the overall goal of generating knowledge for input to a population recovery plan to ensure the conservation of this vulnerable Mediterranean relict. Specific goals are: 1) Describe the population structure by size and age, 2) Quantify and model the population growth rate; 3) Quantify the incidence of mortality and its principal causes; 4) Describe the species’ sexual and asexual reproduction with a view to future restoration actions; 5) Construct a demographic model that serves as a practical tool to quantitatively predict threats to the population structure as well as future population responses following restoration-conservation actions.