Recent studies, carried out by means of innovative technological tools as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), have highlighted the richness of the Mediterranean deep‐sea environments, characterized by great diversity and abundance of organisms. In particular, corals, gorgonians, and sponges play the important ecological role of ecosystem engineers in deep marine environments, creating complex three‐dimensional habitats enhancing high biodiversity and ecosystem functioning at every level. Coral forests and bathyal white coral communities, starting from depths of 50–70 m and below 300 m, respectively, represent the richest ecosystems known so far for the Mediterranean basin. The different assemblages show a strong heterogeneity, varying in terms of specific composition, abundance, size of colonies, and associated fauna, even on a small spatial scale. Unfortunately, the high commercial fishing effort of trawling and longline fleets mainly operating along this bathymetric range represents a major threat for these vulnerable marine ecosystems, particularly in consideration of their structuring organisms which are long‐lived species with slow growth rates and recovery ability. Further knowledge on deep coral assemblages is urgently needed to implement effective management and proper conservation measures. This approach is now an international priority that proceeds together with the inclusion of the structuring species in numerous directives.
Part of the book: Corals in a Changing World