author: Karen Sack, International Ocean Conservation Director, Pew Environment Group
The deep sea is an extreme and unforgiving environment, so it may be surprising to learn that it is home to an estimated 10 million distinct species, rivaling the biodiversity of some of the world’s richest tropical rainforests.
This dark region begins around 200 meters (218 yards) below the surface of the ocean, where most light cannot penetrate, and ends at the bottom of the ocean, at an average depth of nearly 4.3 kilometers (2.6 miles). Coral reefs up to 8,500 years in age, sharks and fish unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs, and many organisms that have yet to be documented by science thrive in these depths.
But for all the wonders of the deep, these ecosystems are under serious threat. This is especially true for those that are found in the international waters of the high seas, beyond any country’s national jurisdiction. Recent advances in technology, including stronger engines, bigger nets, advanced navigational tools and fish-finding electronics, have enabled fishing vessels to travel further and cast their nets deeper than ever before, scouring the deep sea’s undiscovered mountain peaks, canyons and seabed. As a result, fleets roam the high seas of the world’s oceans, destroying seascapes that have taken millennia to form in search of a few types of fish to sell at restaurants across Europe, Japan and North America. But deep-sea fishing is expensive, and in many instances, taxpayer money in the form of subsidies props up this industry.