The world's oceans are the clearest example of how the common use of resources has led to an intense and unknown degradation of large areas. The lack of a clear responsibility for some practices in coastal and offshore benthic systems, and the difficulty in seeing directly what the direct and indirect impacts are, has profound repercussions for one of the most fragile, biodiverse and biomass generating group of ecosystems: the 'animal forest'. Soft and hard corals, sponges, bryozoans and other animals which are considered eco-engineering species, make up what is known as the animal forests, which are present in shallow and deep waters all over the planet. These sessile three-dimensional living structures are currently under threat from bottom trawling, direct harvesting, pollution and mining, in terms of the direct effects of human intervention. The lack of clear legal rules in the management of coastal, continental platform and deep coral communities is one of the principal problems for these complex communities. The possibility of over-simplifying processes in benthic areas due to a common use of the resources is analysed in this paper, with special emphasis on certain direct impacts all over the world. The real consequences of this over-simplification of the animal forest due to the destruction of these complex, long-lived structures and the potential solutions for a sustainable management are discussed. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.