Karavasta is the widest and most important lagoon in Albania. This study aimed to assess the ecological quality status of the lagoon, acquire knowledge of a natural environment which might be exploited for aquaculture, and give management hints on the basis of anthropogenic impact and ecological conditions. A sampling campaign was carried out in 2008: at six stations, benthic fauna, water and sediment parameters were considered. Statistical analyses were carried out through multivariate procedures (PCA, classification clustering, SIMPER, RDA, DISTLM, PERMANOVA). Ecological quality was assessed through the AZTI Marine Biotic Index (AMBI), the multivariate AMBI (M-AMBI) and the Benthic Index based on Taxonomic Sufficiency (BITS). Sediment characteristics (percent organic matter, %OM; redox potential discontinuity layer depth, RPDL; particle size composition) and salinity represented contributory influences on lagoon communities. It was possible to distinguish and characterise a confined area, and benthic communities, from a marine-influenced area and its biota. The number of species was quite low when compared with other open Adriatic lagoons. The M-AMBI and BITS classifications gave quite similar results, which seemed consistent with the ecological conditions of the lagoon, that is a distinction in the ecological quality between the seaward and landward stations, with higher ecological quality (EcoQ) at the seaward stations. Given the pressures and the ecological condition of Karavasta, an intensification of aquaculture activities must be considered with caution, since the lagoon seems at significant risk of serious hypereutrophication. This situation is made worse by the limited water exchange with the marine environment due to the irregular dredging of the communication channels.
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