What's Been Done


Although James Cameron's recent dive to the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, made headline, human-occupied vehicles began to take scientists to the deep seabed in the 1960s. Each decade since then has led to increased access to the deep ocean through the use of technologically advanced robotics for exploration and scientific research. Science has played an important role in making the case for political commitments and tangible action to implementing management measures to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems in the deep sea from the damage caused by destructive fishing practices and increasingly other human activities such as deep seabed mining.

In 2004, over a thousand scientists from 69 countries signed a statement calling on governments and the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.(1) In 2006 a number of the world's leading deep ocean scientists toured around Europe to bring their concerns directly to decision makers. At the same time, scientists from the Australia, Canada and the UK sent letters to their governments calling for action.(2)The action marked a turning point in the mounting global campaign to halt deep-sea bottom trawling on the high seas. Since then numerous scientists have continued to call for action to halt the destructive impact of deep-sea bottom trawling, most recently at a hearing on deep-sea fisheries management in the European Parliament's Fisheries Committee in 2013.(3)


Underlying the statements is a still-emerging body of science. Even today scientists are only just beginning to understand the diversity, significance and vulnerability of deep-sea biodiversity and ecosystems. As was shown by the Census of Marine Life, scientists now know that the deep sea is teeming with life, most of which still remains undiscovered. One of the driving forces behind the scientists' action in 2004 was mounting concern that entire deep-sea ecosystems will be destroyed before they can be subject to scientific study. Numerous studies have shown that today in the deep sea, bottom fishing has the greatest direct impact. Hydrocarbon and mineral extraction are fast rising threats, although ocean acidification and climate change are likely to have profound effects on the deep ocean in the near future.

In the context of the fishing industry, where advances in bottom trawl technology mean that it is now possible to fish the deep sea's rugged floors, scientists have expressed profound concern that "human activities, particularly bottom trawling, are causing unprecedented damage to the deep-sea coral and sponge communities on continental plateaus and slopes, and on seamounts and mid-ocean ridges." They continue to urge that the precautionary principle be used to ensure that the deep-sea environment is protected and "to avoid the very real threat of serious or irreversible damage to them by bottom trawling". (4)

In 2004, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report entitled "Cold Water coral Reefs: Out of Sight — No Longer Out of Mind". More recently, in September 2010, the (UNEP) launched a groundbreaking report, Deep-sea Sponge Grounds: Reservoirs of Biodiversity, highlighting deep-sea sponge science and conservation. Compiled by leading experts in the field, the report consolidates knowledge on the biology and ecology of deep-water sponge grounds, their value to society, and their associated policy frameworks. It is aimed at boosting the protection and sustainable management of these long-overlooked diverse and ancient habitats. The report also draws attention to how little is currently known and demonstrates the need to develop fuller knowledge and understanding of these habitats together with raising awareness as to why sponge grounds are important and the threats they face.

In the northeast Atlantic the EU funded HERMIONE project (Hotspot Ecosystem Research and Man's Impact on European Seas) designed to advance our knowledge of the functioning of deep-sea ecosystems and the impacts of human activities on such ecosystems ran from April 2009 through September 2012 Among the project's conclusions, was that whole communities of deep-sea species, including many more than those targeted commercially, have been depleted in the northeast Atlantic as a result of deep-sea bottom trawling. They also concluded that the physical impact of bottom trawling on the seabed was orders of magnitude higher than that of all other activities combined (e.g. oil and gas exploration, research, submarine cable laying etc.) in the area. The findings are being used to promote effective, science-based governance strategies and management plans.

Clear message to policy makers and industry

In May 2011, a workshop in Lisbon brought together 22 scientists and fisheries experts from around the world to review the implementation of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions on high seas bottom fisheries. A report was produced - The Impact of Deep-Sea Fisheries and Implementation of the UN General Assembly Resolutions 61/105 and 64/72 - summarizing the workshop conclusions. The report identifies examples of good practice and makes recommendations in areas where it was agreed that the current management measures fall short of the actions called for by the United Nations General Assembly.

Several of the report's contributing scientists attended, and made presentations to, the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September 2011 to review the implementation of resolutions 61/105 and 64/72. Read further on the outcomes of that meeting on our UN Processes page.

The DSCC continues to work with scientists at the science-policy interface. There have recently been a number of new initiatives from deep-sea scientists to provide scientific advice and information relevant to the regulation of activities in the deep sea. Among these are INDEEP and the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI), which are addressing deep-sea fisheries, deep seabed mining and bioprospecting for seabed marine genetic resources (among other things). The DSCC also continues to work with the scientific bodies of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) in the implementation of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions.


(1) The scientists' statement of concern was initially signed by 1,136 scientists and released in February 2004 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting and the Seventh Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Marine Conservation Biology Institute subsequently (MCBI) re-opened the scientists' statement for signature in 2005, in response to requests from scientists wishing to join the moratorium call.
Scientists' Statement on Protecting the World's Deep-sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems
Full list of signatories
(2) Scientists' Letters to their governments (4 attached):
(3) http://www.savethehighseas.org/publicdocs/20130201NGO_letter_corals.pdf
(4) Scientific and Political update 2006, DSCC (pdf)
Momentum in support of a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling continues to grow, January 2006, Addendum to Political Momentum is Building Rapidly (pdf)
Political Momentum Is Building Rapidly, April 2005 (pdf) English | French | German | Spanish
(5) http://www.unep-wcmc.org/biodiversity-series-22_103.html

More information:

Visit the publications section of this site for links to further scientific reports.