58 Australian marine scientists have sent a letter to the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard urging him to “take advantage of an historic opportunity to secure significant protection for the world’s deep-ocean ecosystems on the high seas” by promoting the negotiation of a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling at this year’s United Nations General Assembly. (1) A week earlier, over 100 international marine scientists, conservationists and biodiversity experts attending the International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC1) sent a letter to Australian Ministers for the Environment and Fisheries, Senators Ian Campbell and Ian MacDonald, urging them to stop deep sea destruction by supporting a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling. (2) The letter was also sent to Heads of State attending the Pacific Islands Forum and delegates to the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which met last week in Hobart.
In spite of the fact that Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has called on countries to “stop the rape of our oceans” (1) and Fisheries Minister Geoff Reagan agrees that no habitat means no fish, Canada stands poised to vote against a moratorium on bottom trawling in international waters at the United Nations. Last week, on Wednesday, 19 October 2005, a medley of deep sea creatures, entangled in three tonnes of bottom trawl fishing gear, were displayed by Deep Sea Conservation Coalition members on Canada’s Parliament Hill to impress on Parliament members the scale of the damage caused to sea floor habitats by such gear.
There is growing concern amongst scientists about the need to take urgent action to protect deep sea biodiversity – fish stocks as well as habitat. The International Council on the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has prepared a report calling for “a complete overhaul of deep-sea fisheries.” (1) According to a 17 October ICES press release about the report’s launch (2), “scientists will recommend that all existing deep-sea fisheries should be cutback to low levels until they can demonstrate that they are sustainable. They will advise zero catch of depleted deep-sea sharks, and they will recommend that no new fisheries for deep-sea fish should be allowed until it can be demonstrated that they are capable of being sustainable.”
The latest discovery of underwater life in abundance – coral forests at 1000 metres deep – was released today in Vienna at a conference (1) of marine biologists, underlining recent calls to take a time-out on trawl fishing of the ocean bottom until scientists can accurately assess the real richness of deep sea life and its resources. Scientists outlined new research from the US Government National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration 2002 and 2004 Gulf of Alaska Seamount Expeditions. Marine ecologists collected and described a new species of deep sea fan (2), or gorgonian, called a “bamboo coral” from a dozen mountains in the sea between Santa Barbara, California and Kodiak, Alaska, USA, suggesting the animal occurs on peaks throughout the Pacific Ocean.
A report released by Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), suggests that deep sea life holds major promise for the treatment of human illnesses (1). But scientists are increasingly concerned that bottom trawling may be destroying medically beneficial species before they are even discovered.
On 18 and 19 April, Dr. Sylvia Earle met with Spanish scientists and government officials to advocate that Spain, a major fishing nation, has an opportunity to act constructively for the conservation of deep sea marine biodiversity by supporting a UN General Assembly moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.
Leading deep sea scientists today spoke out against the European Community’s failure to fulfil its commitments to protect the seabed from high seas bottom trawling. Addressing a gathering at the European Parliament, hosted by MEPs Paolo Casaca and Elspeth Attwooll, the scientists echoed concerns already raised by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and the European Community itself, over the enormous damage caused by bottom trawl fishing to deep-sea corals and other rare and unique species, fish populations and sensitive deep ocean habitats worldwide.
New deep sea discoveries are being made all the time. Several new species of black corals have been discovered this year alone, including a new shrub-like black coral that shines like a pink and white Christmas tree. Yet their delicate structures can be removed with one pass of a bottom dragging net and may take decades to recover.
Three different types of corals live in the deep sea – soft, stony or black. Soft corals (or octocorals) often look like colorful undersea gardens of pink, red, and white. They grow in many different forms, including branching sea fans. From a distance they look like bushes or trees, sometimes reaching 2 meters tall.