The availability of marine habitats maps remains limited due to difficulty and cost of working at sea. Many important habitats types, such as Mediterranean coralligenous reefs, remain still insufficiently known.
This study used predictive spatial modelling to produce benthic habitat maps based on complete acoustic coverage of the seafloor together with a comparatively low number of sea truths (i.e. scuba diving observations used to associate acoustic regions to different biotic assemblages). This approach was applied to the coralligenous reefs of the Marine Protected (MPA) Area of Tavolara-Punta Coda Cavallo (NW Sardinia, Italy).
The obtained results allowed recognising five coralligenous habitats, all but one existing within EUNIS (European Nature Information System) types. The methodology used showed that the distribution of habitats was driven by distance from coast, depth, and lithotype, and allowed mapping their distribution over the MPA.
The authors report that the results allowed to calculate the occurrence of the distinct coralligenous habitats in zones with different protection level and explain that the five habitats are unequally protected since the protection regime was established when detailed marine habitat maps were not available.
It is concluded that the developed method proved to be reliable and the results obtained will be useful when modulating on-going and future management actions in the studied area and in other Mediterranean MPAs to develop conservation efforts at basin scale.
Vassallo P, Bianchi CN, Paoli C, Holon F, Navone A, Bavestrello G, Vietti RC, Morri C (2018) A predictive approach to benthic marine habitat mapping: Efficacy and management implications. Marine Pollution Bulletin 131:218-232