Deep down in the ocean, but nonetheless within human reach, seamount communities and ecosystems have repeatedly been shown to be highly vulnerable to the impact of human activities. Globally, seamount and cold-water coral habitats and species which are frequently associated with each other, are considered a priority for developing conservation and sustainable management measures in the marine environment within and beyond national jurisdiction. Apart from the implementation of regulatory controls of sectoral activities for a wider sea area, seamounts may be good candidates for site-based management measures including marine protected areas, due to their singularity and isolation.
The ultimate goal will be to link a network of seamount marine protected areas into the envisaged global representative network of marine protected areas, as agreed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg 2002. However, there is still a long way to go.
Currently, there are 346 seamounts under protection in 84 marine protected areas worldwide, all located in areas under the sovereignty of a coastal State. This corresponds to only a small fraction of the estimated 10,000-50,000 seamounts rising higher than 1,000 m from the seafloor. In the Atlantic, only two seamounts have been designated up to now, though without being successfully managed as a marine protected area.
The "Offshore MPA Toolbox" seeks to compile the most important information relevant to the selection, designation and, in particular, the management of protected areas at seamounts in the North-East Atlantic, including a summary of legal issues. We hope that it will contribute to enhance the establishment of well-managed marine protected areas offshore, especially for seamounts and offshore banks which face similar problems.
The EU-funded project OASIS (OceAnic Seamounts: an Integrated Study) aims to provide a holistic, integrated assessment of seamount ecology in the NE Atlantic using two sites as case studies, and to apply the scientific knowledge to developing possible options for sustainable management. A site-specific, mass-balanced seamount model and management plan for the two example sites shall lay the ground for legislative protection at a later stage, but also provide ideas how to practically advance the designation of marine protected areas for seamount habitats with limited data availability.
The "Offshore MPA Toolbox" is a product of the OASIS project, following a comprehensive description of the "Seamounts of the North-East Atlantic" in 2003. As a next step, more specific management recommendations will be included in the final, updated OASIS Seamounts Report to be published in 2005/2006.