Although the different communities distributed in the mesophotic and deep waters play a fundamental role in the functioning of the marine ecosystems, the assessment of their global distribution is still far to be achieved. This is also true in the Mediterranean Sea, where exploration technologies are revealing a large diversity of unknown communities structured totally or partially by corals, which represent vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) according to FAO’s guidelines. This chapter aims to define and describe the main coral habitats of the mesophotic and aphotic zones of the Mediterranean, such as coralligenous formations, cold-water coral frameworks, coral forests and sea pen fields. The role of these habitats in providing benefit for a variety of invertebrates and fishes as well as a suite of ecosystem goods and services is highlighted. Fishing is one of the main anthropogenic impacts affecting Mediterranean coral habitats, and the current conservation measures are often ineffective. Ongoing attempts and future solutions aiming at the conservation of these VMEs are here discussed, including the fishing restriction in strategic areas characterized by lush coral communities, the implementation of controls against illegal fishery, the development of encounter protocols for vulnerable species and the use of observers onboard.
Part of the book: Advances in the Studies of the Benthic Zone