The most recent biodiversity assessment on Mediterranean sponge fauna indicates a value of species richness higher than 600 with over 30% of endemicity. Thisese data supports the status of the Mediterranean Sea as a precious hotspot of biodiversity. The Mediterranean sponge taxonomic richness is under pressure and losses are possible because of epidemic diseases and over-fishing of bath sponges, together with a huge human impact due to both discharge of pollutants and alteration of ecosystems since ancient times. International agreements on the marine fauna conservation focus on 12 Mediterranean sponge species, including bath sponges. This list urgently needs urgently a deep revision and enlargement. During the last decades, the number of species that could be actively harvested is dramatically increasing because new trends in the industrial exploitation of bioactive metabolites produced by sponges; this tendency, in the absence of any knowledge on sponge population distribution and density, could lead to local extinctions. The present overview deals with the state of the art on the historical exploitation of Mediterranean horny sponges. It also provides an update on trends in the utilization of these sponges seriously endangered by both long-term harvesting and habitat loss. Attention is also focused upon the species of recent commercial interest as sources of metabolites with biomedical or cosmetic potential, such as Dysidea avara, considered endangered due to a pressing demand of chemicals from the sea (e.g. Avarol). To face the uncontrolled harvesting of new and historical target sponge species, it is necessary to drive the Mediterranean sponge exploitation toward a rational and sustainable long-term management. Sponge culture in situ is suggested as a key approach to support a successful conservation strategy of this high value biological resource.
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