The existence of deep red coral (Corallium rubrum) banks in the gulfs of Naples and Salerno (South Tyrrhenian Sea, Mediterranean Sea) is well known in historical records due to the heavy coral harvesting that occurred during the 19th and 20th centuries, by both trawling gears and scuba diving. In 2010 and 2012, during two Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) surveys on board of the Research Vessel (R/V) Astrea, red coral banks were detected in 16 of the 25 visited localities, between 45 and 150 m depth. Seven of these banks, located in the inner part of the Gulf of Naples, were already explored in 1918 by a scientific survey reporting the occurrence of red coral. Healthy populations (densities > 90 colonies m−2) were present only around the coasts of the Phlegrean Islands (Ischia and Procida Islands). Very low densities (< 5 colonies m−2) or the absence of coral were recorded in all other sites of the Gulf of Naples (including all historical re-visited banks), and a variable percentage of dead colonies was observed. This evidence suggests a huge state of stress likely favoured by the hydrodynamic conditions in the Gulf, enhancing water pollution and sedimentation rate. Finally, the documented high fishing pressure plays a major role in the hard-bottom communities’ degradation. A recent mass mortality episode was also recorded along the Amalfi coast, around Li Galli Islands (Gulf of Salerno), at a depth range between 80 and 100 m, where the mortality affected 80% of the largest colonies, estimated to be around 70 years old. Several possible reasons for this mortality have been hypothesised, such as the formation of local down-welling currents inducing an unusual drop of the thermocline, or sudden warm water emissions (sulphur springs) in an area characterised by important volcanic activities, or local landslides generating turbidity currents along the steep slopes.
Octocorallia (Soft Corals)
Italy - Tyrrhenian Sea
Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)