Maerl

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Maerl in Lanildut.

Maerl (or marl) is a collective name for Coralline red algae with a certain growth habit.[1] Maerl grows at a rate of ∼1mm per year.[2] It accumulates as unattached particles and forms extensive beds in suitable sublittoral sites.[3]

Description[edit]

In Europe maerl beds occur throughout the Mediterranean, along most of the Atlantic coast from Portugal to Norway, and in the English Channel, Irish Sea and North Sea. [4] The distribution of maerl is dependent on water movement, light and salinity concentration. [5] Maerl beds occur in the photic zone, and can be found to around 30 m depth in the British Isles and up to 120 m deep in the Mediterranean.[6] Maerl deposits can reach up to 10 m thick, but are usually much thinner; carbon dating has shown that they can be more than 5500 years old.[7]

In the British Isles maerl is composed of three species of coralline algae growing loose in beds of fragmented nodules in the sub-littoral. The species generally involved are: Lithothamnion corallioides,[1]Lithothamnion glaciale and Phymatolithon calcareum.[8][2]

Maerl is dredged from the sea floor and crushed to form a powder. It is still harvested around the coasts of Brittany in France and Bantry Bay, Ireland, and is a popular fertilizer for organic gardening. It was also dredged off Falmouth, Cornwall, but this ceased in 2004. Scientists investigated Falmouth maerl and found that L. corallioides predominated down to 6 m and P. calcareum from 6-10 m (Blunden et al., 1981).[9][10]

Chemical analysis of maerl showed that it contained 32.1% CaCO3 and 3.1% MgCO3 (dry weight).

Ecology[edit]

The ecology of maerl habitats has received very little attention in contrast to other marine ecosystems such as kelp forests or sea grass beds.[11] Maerl beds provide a complex habitat for a wide range of taxa[12] with a variety of niches that support high associated invertebrate and algal biodiversity[13]

Maerl beds act as nursery areas for the juvenile stages of commercial species such as juvenile cod Gadus morhua, saithe Pollachius virens, pollack Pollachius pollachius[14] and juvenile scallops Aequipecten opercularis.[15] Maerl beds offer physical refuge and protection from predation as well as productive feeding grounds but are easily damaged by dredging and towed fishing gear.[16] [17]


Maerl has no tolerance for desiccation.[18]

History[edit]

Maerl has been extracted for centuries mainly for use as an agricultural fertilizer. The amount extracted increased in the late 20th century and in 2000, maerl was extracted at ∼5,000 tonnes per year in Ireland and ∼500,000 tonnes per year in France.[19] Large scale maerl extraction over the past 40 years has removed and degraded maerl beds.[20] In Cornwall, England, maerl has been extracted since 1970’s, but was banned in 2005 by Falmouth Harbour Commissioners.[21]

An early reference to maerl was made by John Ray in 1690 who reported it from Falmouth. In Ireland, maerl is extracted from subfossil beds in Bantry Bay by Celtic Sea Minerals [3]. The maerl-forming species Lithothamion corallioides and Phymatolithon calcareum are listed in Annex V of the EC Habitats Directive [4].

Uses[edit]

Used as a soil conditioner, it is dredged from the sea floor and crushed to a powder.[22] The slow growth of individual nodules and their accumulation in beds over a millennial timescale means that there is no possibility of maerl keeping up with dredging for this purpose. Maerl should be considered as a non-renewable resource, and readily available alternative products (e.g., garden lime) make modern day exploitation questionable.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Steneck, R. S. (1986). "The Ecology of Coralline Algal Crusts: Convergent Patterns and Adaptative Strategies". Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 17: 273–303. doi:10.1146/annurev.es.17.110186.001421. JSTOR 2096997.  edit
  2. ^ Blake, C. and Maggs, C.A. (2003) Comparative growth rates and internal banding periodicity of maerl species (Corallinales, Rhodophyta) from northern Europe. Phycologia 42, 606–612.
  3. ^ Vize, S.; Blake, C.; Hinojosa, G. and Maggs, C.A. 2003. The distribution and composition of maerl beds in Northern Ireland. PMNHS Newsletter No.13 p.26
  4. ^ Grall, J., Le Loc’h, F., Guyonnet, B., and Riera, P. (2006) Community structure and food web based on stable isotopes (δ15N and δ13C) analysis of a North Eastern Atlantic maerl bed. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 338, 1-15 [Online] Available at: http://horizon.documentation.ird.fr/exl-doc/vcc/2006/11/010037649.pdf
  5. ^ Wilson, S., Blake, C., Berges, J.A., and Maggs, C.A. (2004) Environmental tolerances of free-living coralline algae (maerl): implications for European marine conservation. Journal of Biological Conservation 120, 279-289. [Online] Available at: ftp://ftp.soc.soton.ac.uk/pub/falmouth/Falmouth2009/.../Mearl2.PDF
  6. ^ Hall-Spencer, JM. and Moore, PG. (2000) Scallop dredging has profound, long-term impacts on maerl habitats. ICES Journal of Marine Science 57, 1407-1415.
  7. ^ Grall, J. and Hall-Spencer, J.M. (2003) Problems facing maerl conservation in Brittany. Journal of Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 13, 55-64. [Online] Available at: http://www.ukmpas.org/pdf/Grall_Hall-Spencer_2003.pdf
  8. ^ Irvine, L.M and Chamberlain, Y.M. 1994. Seaweeds of the British Isles. Volume 1, Part 2B. The Natural History Museum, London. ISBN 0-11-310016-7
  9. ^ Blunden, G.; Farnham, W. F.; Jephson, N.; Barwell, C. J.; Fenn, R. H. and Plunkett, B. A. (1981) The composition of maerl beds of economic interest in northern Brittany, Cornwall, and Ireland. Proceedings of the International Seaweed Symposium. 10: 651 - 656
  10. ^ Blunden, G; Campbell, S A; Smith, J R; Guiry, M D; Hession, C C and Griffin, R L (1997) Chemical and physical characterization of calcified red algal deposits known as maërl. J. Applied. Phycol. 9: 11 - 17
  11. ^ Nelson, W. (2009) Calcified macroalgae – critical to coastal ecosystems and vulnerable to change: a review. Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 60, 187-801.
  12. ^ Steller, D.L., Riosmena-Rodríguez, R., Foster, M.S., Roberts, C.A. (2003) Rhodolith bed diversity in the Gulf of California: the importance of rhodolith structure and consequences of disturbance. Aquatic Conservation: Marine Freshwater Ecosystem 13, 5–20. [Online] Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aqc.564/pdf
  13. ^ Wilson, S., Blake, C., Berges, J.A., and Maggs, C.A. (2004) Environmental tolerances of free-living coralline algae (maerl): implications for European marine conservation. Journal of Biological Conservation 120, 279-289. [Online] Available at: ftp://ftp.soc.soton.ac.uk/pub/falmouth/Falmouth2009/.../Mearl2.PDF
  14. ^ Kamenos, N. A., Moore, P.G., Hall-Spencer, J.M. (2004a) Nursery-area function of maerl grounds for juvenile queen scallops Aequipecten opercularis and other invertebrates. Journal of Marine Ecology Progress Series 274, 183-189
  15. ^ Kamenos, N. A., Moore, P.G., Hall-Spencer, J.M. (2004b) Small-scale distribution of juvenile gadoids in shallow inshore waters; what role does maerl play? ICES Journal of Marine Science 61, 442-429. [Online] Available at: http://icesjms.oxfordjournals.org/content/61/3/422.short
  16. ^ Hall-Spencer, JM. and Moore, PG. (2000) Scallop dredging has profound, long-term impacts on maerl habitats. ICES Journal of Marine Science 57, 1407-1415.
  17. ^ Kamenos, N. A., Moore, P.G., Hall-Spencer, J.M. (2004b) Small-scale distribution of juvenile gadoids in shallow inshore waters; what role does maerl play? ICES Journal of Marine Science 61, 442-429. [Online] Available at: http://icesjms.oxfordjournals.org/content/61/3/422.short
  18. ^ Wilson, S.; Blake, C.; Berges, J. A.; Maggs, C. A. (November 2004). "Environmental tolerances of free-living coralline algae (maerl): implications for European marine conservation". Biological Conservation 120: 279–289. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2004.03.001.  edit
  19. ^ Nelson, W. (2009) Calcified macroalgae – critical to coastal ecosystems and vulnerable to change: a review. Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 60, 187-801.
  20. ^ Grall, J. and Hall-Spencer, J.M. (2003) Problems facing maerl conservation in Brittany. Journal of Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 13, 55-64. [Online] Available at: http://www.ukmpas.org/pdf/Grall_Hall-Spencer_2003.pdf
  21. ^ Hall-Spencer, J.M. (2005) Ban on maerl extraction. Marine Pollution Bulletin 50, 121
  22. ^ Thomas, D. 2002. Seaweeds. Life Series. The Natural History Museum, London ISBN 0-565-09175-1