Building a baseline for habitat-forming corals by a multi-source approach, including Web Ecological Knowledge
Di Camillo, Cristina Gioia;
In the Mediterranean, habitat-forming corals often characterize essential fish habitats. While their distribution is sufficiently known for the western basin, few data are available from the Central-Eastern Mediterranean Sea (CEM). This study fills this gap supplying the largest dataset ever built on the geographical and bathymetric distribution of the most relevant habitat-forming corals (Eunicella cavolini, Eunicella verrucosa, Eunicella singularis, Leptogorgia sarmentosa, Paramuricea clavata, Corallium rubrum and Savalia savaglia) of the CEM. Information collected from different sources such as literature, citizen science, and from the World Wide Web (WWW) was combined. Videos published on the WWW provided additional information on the presence of fishing lines and signs of damage, as well as on the distribution of purple and yellow-purple colonies of Paramuricea clavata. The study highlighted the impressive amount of information that the WWW can offer to scientists, termed here as Web Ecological Knowledge (WEK). The WEK is constantly fuelled by internauts, representing a free, refreshable, long-term exploitable reservoir of information. A quick and easy method to retrieve data from the WWW was illustrated. In addition, the distribution of corals was overlapped to marine protected areas and to the distribution of environmental conditions suitable for coralligenous habitats, fragile biogenic Mediterranean structures hosting complex assemblages in need of strict protection. The collected data allowed identifying priority areas with high species diversity and sites that are impacted by fishing activities. Supplied data can correctly address conservation and restoration policies in the CEM, adding an important contribution to ecosystem-based marine spatial planning.