Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems
What are VME’s?
Vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) are special parts of the ocean floor where habitat-forming animals such as deep sea sponges, stony corals, sea pens, sea fans, lace corals and black corals form three-dimensional underwater forests. These forests are biodiversity hotspots as they provide habitat, nursery areas and feeding grounds for fish and invertebrates. They are fundamental to maintaining healthy ecosystems, as they perform a wide range of ecosystem services such as storing carbon, filtering water and supporting food provision. Some VME animals have potential for biodiscovery, with some species possessing compounds that fight cancer and others inspiring new designs for fibre optics, glass, civil engineering and semiconductors.
Most VME animals are long-lived and slow-growing, which makes them vulnerable to destructive activities like trawling and mining. If we want VMEs to continue providing important services and maintain their roles in ensuring healthy ecosystems, they need to be identified, mapped and managed effectively. By doing so, we can ensure that South African fisheries operate more sustainably, and as a result maintain their eco-certification, which provides additional economic benefits through access to international and more valuable markets.
VMEs can be found in many South African marine ecosystems particularly in association with Seamounts and Ridges, Canyons, Slopes and Rocky Shelves.
Sea fans, sea pens and sponges are examples of vulnerable marine ecosystem species
Watch the video below to learn more about VME’s