Marine Pollution Bulletin, in press

Effect of marine litter on the benthic megafauna of coastal soft bottoms: a manipulative field experiment

Stelios Katsanevakis, George Verriopoulos, Artemis Nicolaidou, Maria Thessalou-Legaki

 Department of Zoology-Marine Biology, School of Biology,  University of Athens, Panepistimioupolis, 15784 Athens, Greece 

 

Abstract

The effect of litter on the abundance and community structure of soft-bottom epibenthic megafauna was investigated in three coves of the Saronikos Gulf (Aegean Sea). At each site, two surfaces were defined on the sea-bottom. One of the surfaces was uniformly littered with debris (16 items per 100 m2) , while the other remained ‘clean’ and acted as control. Benthic megafauna was censused with SCUBA diving, once before the littering episode and then monthly for one year. Both total abundance and the number of species showed an increasing trend in the impacted surfaces, either because the litter provided refuge or reproduction sites for mobile species or because hard-substratum sessile species had the opportunity to settle on provided surfaces. A marked gradual deviation in the community structure of the impacted surface from the control and a clear successional pattern of change in the community composition of the impacted surfaces were demonstrated.

 

Keywords: benthic megafauna, coastal ecology, Greece, marine debris, litter, plastics