The UK's EEZ supports a diverse range of marine habitats, including many that are inhabited by cold-water corals. Lophelia pertusa is found on the Wyville Thomson Ridge, across Rockall, in the Sea of the Hebrides and on the Darwin Mounds, in addition to many species of octocorals, black corals and stylasterid hydrocorals. Lophelia inhabits many of the UK’s marine habitats, including the inshore continental shelf, offshore slopes and seamounts, and sandy mounds. Inshore, off the island of Mingulay (western Scotland, approximately 130 – 200 m deep) and offshore Rockall (Hatton Bank, approximately 400 – 1000 m deep), Lophelia builds large, biogenic reef-topped mounds that support highly diverse benthic communities.
Although the spatial extent of different human activities varies, it is clear that bottom fishing in UK waters has the most devastating widespread effect on cold-water corals. Many marine habitats colonised by Lophelia and other corals in UK waters now enjoy various degrees of public awareness and protection. In offshore waters the Darwin Mounds, Wyville Thomson Ridge and North West Rockall Bank are all candidate SACs, while in territorial waters the Mingulay Reef Complex was approved by Scottish Ministers as a Special Area of Conservation in August 2011. Damaging fishing activity is currently prohibited at the Darwin Mounds by a measure under the Common Fisheries Policy.
Currently, no national legislation exists protecting Lophelia pertusa reefs or cold-water corals in general, although they do feature in the non-statutory UK Biodiversity Action Plan, which recommends conservation actions including research on their distribution in UK waters and designation of marine protected areas. Recent activities such as the Strategic Environmental Assessment initiative will generate new information based on new multibeam sonar surveys and photographic surveys, which may be used in conservation efforts.
See also: Mingulay Reefs | Rockall-Hatton Bank | Darwin Mounds | References