• Mass mortality hits gorgonian forests at Montecristo Island.

      Turicchia, Eva; Abbiati, Marco; Sweet, Michael J.; Ponti, Massimo; University of Bologna; Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerca per le Scienze Ambientali (CIRSA); Consorzio Nazionale Interuniversitario per le Scienze del Mare (CoNISMa); Polytechnic University of Marche; Istituto di Scienze Marine (ISMAR); University of Derby (Inter Research, 2018-10-16)
      Mediterranean gorgonian forests are species-rich habitats, and like many other marine habitats they are threatened by anthropogenic disturbances and mass mortality events. These mortality events have often been linked to anomalies in the temperature profiles of the Mediterranean region. On 5 September 2017, colonies of the gorgonians Eunicella singularis and Eunicella cavolini exhibited rapid tissue loss, down to a depth of 30 m along the steep cliffs of Montecristo Island, Tuscan Archipelago National Park, Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy. Interestingly, Montecristo has previously been identified as a reference site for the ecological quality assessment of the western Mediterranean benthic assemblages on rocky bottoms. The observed mortality event occurred during a period of increased sea temperature. By utilising a combination of high-resolution oceanographic analysis, forecast models and citizen science initiatives, we propose that an early warning system for the concomitance of heat waves and mortality events can be put in place. A temperature-based coral disease surveillance tool could then be established for the entire Mediterranean Sea. Such a tool would allow for the timely study of mass mortality phenomena and the implementation of prompt mitigation and/or restoration initiatives. Finally, this specific mortality event, in a Marine Protected Area, offers a unique opportunity to monitor and assess the resilience of gorgonian populations and associated benthic assemblages in the absence of other, more directly, anthropogenic disturbances such as pollution and land runoff.