The distribution and population structure of the eurybathic gorgonian Corallium rubrum were studied off Cap de Creus (Costa Brava, Northwestern Mediterranean Sea). Red coral is endemic to the Mediterranean Sea and the adjacent NE Atlantic coast, where it has been over exploited for centuries. This study presents, the first quantitative data on the spatial distribution and structure of a population extending between 50 (common SCUBA limits) and 230 m depth, and compared it with shallow populations previously studied in the same area. Different remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and two methodological approaches were employed during four cruises between 2002 and 2006: 1-Extensive surveys: sea to coast transects in which red coral density and patch frequency were recorded; 2-Intensive surveys, in which parameters describing colony morphology were recorded. Most of the hard substrate between 50 and 85 m depth was inhabited by red coral colonies, showing a patch frequency of 8.3 ± 7.9 SD patches per 100 m-transect (total transect area: 34 m2), and within-patch colony densities of 16–376 colonies m−2 (mean of 43 ± 53 colonies m−2). Below 120 m depth red coral was less abundant, and rather than forming dense patches as in shallow water, isolated colonies were more common. The population structure differed between sites that are easily accessible to red coral fishermen, and remote ones (both at similar depth, 60–80 m), as colonies in easily accessible locations were smaller in height and diameter, and showed a less developed branching pattern. At shallower locations (10–50 m depth) the population structure was significantly different from those at deeper locations, due to the heavy harvesting pressure they are exposed to in the shallows. Twenty-five to forty-six percentage of the deeper colonies were taller than 6 cm, while only 7–16% of the shallow water colonies exceeded 6 cm colony height. Forty-six to seventy-nine percentage of the colonies in deeper waters were large enough to be legally harvested, while only 9–20% of the shallow water colonies met the 7 mm legal basal diameter to be collected. The branching pattern was also better developed in deeper colonies, as up to 16% of the colonies showed fourth order branches, compared to less than 1% of the shallow water colonies (of which 96% consisted of only one single branch). The results thus confirm that C. rubrum populations above 50 m depth are exposed to a higher harvesting intensity than deeper populations in the same area.
Octocorallia (Soft Corals)
Spain - Mediterranean Sea
Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)