Abstract

Data on the soft bottom benthic communities of the Vlora Gulf along the Albanian coast were collected in the context of the international Centro Internazionale di Scienze del Mare (CISM) project funded by the Apulian region. The present study investigated and mapped the different communities inside the Gulf of Vlora, Albania, which are continuously affected by various natural and anthropogenic sources. Two research cruises were carried out in the Vlora Gulf during May 2007 and January 2008. During the first exploratory survey, the depth and morphology of the soft bottom was identified with a multibeam echo sounder and the Side-Scan–Sonar system; a preliminary map of the biocoenosis was created and a sampling plan was defined. In the second survey, 58 sampling stations were established in the study area using Van Veen grabs and scuba dives.

A total of 151 taxa were identified (1 Foraminifera, 6 Cnidaria, 3 Nemertea, 2 Sipuncula, 36 Mollusca, 53 Annelida, 25 Crustacea Decapoda, 7 Bryozoa, 15 Echinodermata, 1 Hemichordata, and 2 Tunicata); 54 species were reported for the first time in Albania. The analyses showed there were three main habitats in the investigated area: the biocoenosis of terrigenous mud; a wide, muddy matte of Posidonia oceanica; and the narrow residual areas of P. oceanica meadows.

The present study represents the first experience in mapping the benthic biocoenosis of the Vlora Gulf of Albania and shows a progressive decay of the benthic communities in the area, especially if compared with the previous few studies.

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