Evaluating seabed habitat representativeness across a diverse set of marine protected areas on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

  • David Milla-FiguerasEmail author
  • Mara Schmiing
  • Patrícia Amorim
  • Barbara Horta e Costa
  • Pedro Afonso
  • Fernando Tempera
Original Paper
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Coastal and marine biodiversity


Marine ecosystem-based management requires good spatial information on the distribution of marine species and habitats. Often, such information is limited to a few sampled locations, but modelling techniques can be applied to produce predictive distribution maps. A harmonized broad-scale seabed habitat map was recently produced for the archipelagos of Macaronesia under the EMODnet Seabed Habitats Programme. We use this new information to produce an extent-based evaluation of the representativeness and level of protection conferred by the current set of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Azores to the variety of benthic marine habitats found in this oceanic region. A more objective assessment of the protection effectively provided to the habitats is obtained by applying a scoring system to the MPAs based on the number of allowed extractive and non-extractive human activities and their potential impact on marine biodiversity and habitats. Results show that Azorean habitats within the MPAs are nearly entirely classified as highly protected. In total, 26 habitats (7 of which are endangered and 2 are rare) have at least 10% of their extent in the Azores EEZ protected by MPAs, but another 29 fail to meet this target (4 on-shelf habitats and 25 deep-sea habitats), highlighting the need to extend current protection of bathyal and abyssal habitats and applying adequate ecological coherence criteria. This approach sets a standard that can be used wherever similar information is available, be it in other European regions or beyond.


Protected area network Representativeness Marine habitats EUNIS Regulation-based classification Azores 



Mara Schmiing was supported by an Individual Research Grant from the Fundo Regional para a Ciência e Tecnologia (M3.1.a/F/044/2016). Barbara Horta e Costa was supported by national funds through FCT: Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P., in the scope of Norma Transitória DL57/2016/CP1361/CT0038. Part of the seabed habitat data was obtained from the European Marine Observation Data Network (EMODnet) Seabed Habitats Project (, funded by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE). Thanks are due to Project MESH-Atlantic (AA-10/1218525/BF) for co-financing Patrícia Amorim’s Contract. We acknowledge funds provided by the Portuguese Science & Technology Foundation (FCT) through individual contracts/grants to Pedro Afonso (IF/01640/2015) and to Fernando Tempera (Ref. SFRH/BPD/79801/2011) while at IMAR/DOP-UAz. CCMAR is supported by FCT through the strategic Project UID/Multi/04326/2019.

Supplementary material

10531_2019_1929_MOESM1_ESM.docx (63 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 64 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Marine Research (IMAR), Department of Oceanography and FisheriesUniversity of the AzoresHortaPortugal
  2. 2.OkeanosDepartment of Oceanography and Fisheries, University of the AzoresHortaPortugal
  3. 3.Centre of Marine Sciences, CCMARUniversity of AlgarveFaroPortugal
  4. 4.IFREMER, STH, Centre de BretagnePlouzanéFrance

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