Red List habitat classification > RL - Marine habitats > RLNEA - Atlantic > NEAA5.25 Atlantic upper circalittoral fine sand

Atlantic upper circalittoral fine sand

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code NEAA5.25
Threat status
Europe Endangered
EU Endangered
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)

Summary

This habitat consists of clean fine sands with less than 5% silt/clay in deeper water in tide-swept channels of marine inlets or on the open coast, extending offshore in depths of over 15-20 m. Off the coast of Portugal it has been reported in depths of 20-37m in areas of moderately strong current. It is characterised by a wide range of echinoderms as well as polychaetes and bivalves. Frequently occurring species include the brittlestar Amphiura filiformisOphiura albida and O.ophiura, the anemone Cerianthus lloydii, and polychaete worms such as Lanice conchilega.

Indicators of quality:

Both biotic and abiotic indicators have been used to describe marine habitat quality. These include: the presence of characteristic species as well as those which are sensitive to the pressures the habitat may face; water quality parameters; levels of exposure to particular pressure, and more integrated indices which describe habitat structure and function, such as trophic index, or successional stages of development in habitats that have a natural cycle of change over time.

There are no commonly agreed indicators of quality for this habitat, although particular parameters may have been set in certain situations e.g. protected features within Natura 2000 sites, where reference values have been determined and applied on a location-specific basis. Examples of indicators of "naturalness" that are potential indicators for quality identified for offshore sands are; typical populations of bivalves and epifaunal brittlestars; maintained presence of substratum; lack of smothering; typically diverse communities with no increase in hardy or opportunistic species; and maintenance of sediment characteristics with typical levels of diversity.

Characteristic species
For full habitat description, please download the habitat factsheet.

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

This habitat is relatively common and has a considerable natural range in the North East Atlantic although a patchy distribution.
Most sedimentary benthic systems on the continental shelf of Europe are believed to have been modified by fishing activities in the last 100 years, particularly by mobile demersal gears, and this habitat remains under fishing pressure. Data from a single year, 2013/2014, has revealed that than 40% of circalittoral fine sands and muddy sand were subject to trawling fishing pressure in the North Sea, with over 10% of this being interpreted a high or moderate pressure. When combining data for the North Sea and Celtic Sea more than 80% of this habitat type is considered to have been subject to such fishing pressure. Given that this is based on a single year of data, and that this type of pressure has been taking place for decades, it is likely to be an underestimate of the total area of this habitat which has been subject to such pressure. Disturbance of the substratum due to intensive fishing activities using bottom trawls or dredges can damage or modify infaunal communities, with burrowing echinoderms and bivalves being particularly vulnerable and therefore affect habitat quality.
Expert opinion is that there has been a very substantial reduction in quality of this habitat, most likely an intermediate decline affecting more than 80% of its extent although it is clear that in some locations there has also been a severe decline. The severity will depend on factors such as the intensity and frequency of disturbance. This habitat has therefore been assessed as Endangered for both the EU 28 and EU 28+ because of both past and likely continuing declines in quality.
EU
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Endangered C/D1
Europe
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Endangered C/D1

Confidence in the assessment

medium
Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Biological resource use other than agriculture & forestry
    • Fishing and harvesting aquatic resources
    • Professional active fishing
    • Benthic or demersal trawling
    • Benthic dredging
  • Pollution
    • Marine water pollution
    • Toxic chemical discharge from material dumped at sea
    • Non-synthetic compound contamination
    • Synthetic compound contamination
  • Natural System modifications
    • Human induced changes in hydraulic conditions
    • Removal of sediments (mud...)
    • Estuarine and coastal dredging
    • Extraction of sea-floor and subsoil minerals (e.g. sand, gravel, rock, oil, gas)
    • Change of sea-floor substrate
    • Dykes, embankments, artificial beaches, general
    • Sea defense or coast protection works, tidal barrages
    • Dykes and flooding defense in inland water systems

Habitat restoration potential

Large bodied, slow growing fauna such as bivalves which are associated with this habitat are sensitive to fishing disturbances and their populations may be slow to recover. Areas that are heavily fished may never fully recover because the seabed is re-disturbed before recovery has taken place. The timescales for recovery will depend on the individual area and the community present, bivalves of the genus Thyasira occur in isolated populations, and due to the lack of a dispersing larval stage, and are unlikely to recover if lost.
Thyasirids, small burrowing bivalves which live in fine sediments, are thought to be fairly slow growing and recovery of a damaged population is likely to take up to 5 years and depends on direct recruitment from the same population due to the low dispersal potential of these species. Where they occur in isolated poulations they are therefore unlikely to recover if lost. In comparison, the high fecundity and larval dispersal potential of many of the polychaetes associated with this habitat is likely to result in a population recovering quite quickly - in less than a year for O. fusiformis and in approximately 5-6 years for A. filiformis due to the later age at which it reaches sexual maturity

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Unknown Unknown
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

This habitat is afforded some protection within Marine Protected Areas. Beneficial management measures for this habitat include control of any kind of activity which damages or disturb seabed communities such as demersal fishing, dredging and offshore construction works. The regulation of effluent discharges can also support the conservation of this habitat.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to wetland, freshwater and coastal habitats
    • Restoring/Improving water quality
  • Measures related to marine habitats
    • Other marine-related measures
  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites
  • Measures related to hunting, taking and fishing and species management
    • Regulation/Management of fishery in marine and brackish systems

Distribution

For each habitat a distribution map was produced from a wide variety of sources indicating known and potential occurrences of the habitat in 10x10 km grids within Europe. Occurrences in grid cells were given in two classes: actual distribution from relatively reliable sources (surveys, expert knowledge), and potential distribution based on models or less reliable indicators. Please download the fact sheet to see the map.

Geographic occurrence and trends

Seas Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Coast Present Unknown Decreasing Unknown
Celtic Seas
Greater North Sea
Macaronesia
Kattegat

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 4,005,871 1,236 >10,997 The area estimate for this habitat has been derived from a synthesis of EUNIS seabed habitat geospatial information for the European Seas but is recognised as being an underestimate.
EU28+ >1,236 >10,997 EOO and AOO have been calculated on the available data. Although this data set is known to be incomplete the figures exceed the thresholds for threatened status.
AOO = the area occupied by a habitat measured in number of 10x10 km grid cells.
EOO = the area (km2) of the envelope around all occurrences of a habitat (calculated by a minimum convex polygon).

Characteristic species

The full list of characteristic species and genus are available above from the Summary. The species available in the EUNIS database are shown here.
Invertebrates Abra prismatica
Invertebrates Amphiura filiformis
Invertebrates Aonides paucibranchiata
Invertebrates Asterias rubens
Invertebrates Bathyporeia elegans
Invertebrates Chaetozone setosa
Invertebrates Echinocardium cordatum
Invertebrates Echinocyamus pusillus
Invertebrates Lanice conchilega
Invertebrates Mactra stultorum
Invertebrates Magelona johnstoni
Invertebrates Mediomastus fragilis
Invertebrates Nephtys longosetosa
Invertebrates Ophelia borealis
Invertebrates Ophiura albida
Invertebrates Owenia fusiformis
Invertebrates Pagurus bernhardus
Invertebrates Scoloplos armiger
Invertebrates Spiophanes bombyx
Species scientific name English common name Species group
Abra prismatica Invertebrates
Amphiura filiformis Invertebrates
Aonides paucibranchiata Invertebrates
Asterias rubens Invertebrates
Bathyporeia elegans Invertebrates
Chaetozone setosa Invertebrates
Echinocardium cordatum Invertebrates
Echinocyamus pusillus Invertebrates
Lanice conchilega Invertebrates
Mactra stultorum Invertebrates
Magelona johnstoni Invertebrates
Mediomastus fragilis Invertebrates
Nephtys longosetosa Invertebrates
Ophelia borealis Invertebrates
Ophiura albida Invertebrates
Owenia fusiformis Invertebrates
Pagurus bernhardus Invertebrates
Scoloplos armiger Invertebrates
Spiophanes bombyx Invertebrates

Vegetation types

Relation to vegetation types (syntaxa)

Not available

Other classifications

Not available
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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