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Dark habitats are environments where the luminosity is extremely weak, or even absent (aphotic area), leading to an absence of macroscopic autochthonous photosynthesis. These habitats are dependent on very diverse geomorphological structures (e.g. underwater caves, canyons, slopes, isolated rocks, abyssal plains, cold seeps, brine anoxic lakes, hydrothermal springs and seamounts).

Dark habitats play an important part in the way the Mediterranean ecosystem functions, insofar as they constitute the main route for transferring matter between the coast and the deep sea. They represent outstanding ecosystems regarding their fragility and vulnerability to any land-based pressure and are considered as Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VME). Thus, dark habitats are considered as biodiversity hotspots, forming a veritable reservoir of life and knowledge.

The Action Plan for the conservation of habitats and species associated with seamounts, underwater caves and canyons, aphotic hard beds and chemo-synthetic phenomena in the Mediterranean Sea was adopted by the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, in 2013.


The objectives of the Action Plan are:

  • To conserve the habitats’ integrity and functionality;
  • To encourage the natural restoration of degraded habitats by reducing human impacts;
  • To improve knowledge about dark populations.


To achieve these goals, Mediterranean countries are invited to:

  • develop national plans for the conservation of dark habitats
  • suggest appropriate legislative measures, particularly about impact studies for coastal development and to identify the activities that can affect these populations
  • setting up and updating scientific databases
  • develop information and education programmes
  • strengthen national capacities.

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