Sponges and corals form a variety of highly-structured habitats, known as sponge/coral gardens, aggregations and reefs. They are particularly prevalent in the deeper areas of the continental shelves and slopes, and play key roles in ecosystem function, from recycling of major nutrients to provision of habitat, nursery and feeding grounds for many other invertebrate and fish species. Their vulnerability to the impacts of anthropogenic activities (e.g. fisheries, oil gas exploitation, climate change) is increasingly recognized and led to their classification as Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs). Yet, knowledge into their faunal composition, areal extent, or the environmental drivers for their distribution is scarce and dispersed, hampering the development and implementation of measures for their conservation and sustainable management.
The main goal of this project is to co-develop a knowledge baseline on the diversity and distribution of these species and habitats on the continental shelf and upper slope of mainland Portugal. DEEPbaseline will bring together scientists, local fishing communities and associations, fisheries managers, and the wider society to improve knowledge, foster awareness and advance conservation actions towards their sustainability.