Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems

Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) are habitats in the sea bottom that are at relatively high risk of being damaged by commercial fisheries and other human activities.

Several criteria are used to identify VMEs, including:

  • Uniqueness or rarity: the presence of rare or endemic species, populations or communities, or species that create unique or unusual geomorphological or oceanographic features.

  • Structural complexity and functional significance: the ecosystem is distinguished by complex physical structures that provide habitats for multiple species.

  • Fragility: the ecosystems contains a high proportion of of habitats or species that are For highly susceptible to degradation due to anthropogenic activities.

  • Slow recovery: The ecosystems are defined by long-lived species with slow growth rates, late age of maturity, and low or unpredictable recruitment. These characteristic difficult the recovery after they have been impacted.

VMEs in waters below 50 m are characterised by large, sessile and fragile species of sponges, sea pens and corals. These ecosystems can be easily damaged by bottom trawls and other bottom contacting fishing gear, and are also vulnerable to increased particle concentration in the water resulting from bottom trawling, discharge of drilling mud, and waste from fish farms.

NovasArc will focus on the following five main types of VMEs, known from the North-Atlantic: