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Scientists Urge Govts. To Protect The Deep Seas

Greenpeace, Ph (09) 630 6317, Fax (09) 630 7121

World's Leading Scientists Urge Governments To Protect The Deep Sea

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 16 February 2004--Over 1000 of the world's foremost marine scientists - including New Zealand scientists(1) - released a strong statement today calling on governments and the UN to protect threatened deep sea ecosystems by establishing a moratorium on the most destructive fishing method: bottom trawling on the High Seas(2).

The statement was released simultaneously at the meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Scientists have recently discovered undersea coral forests and reefs scattered throughout the cold and deep ocean waters of the world. Some corals resemble "trees" up to 10 meters tall. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of species live in these cold-water coral forests and reefs, leading scientists to call them the "rainforests of the deep." But even before scientists can find them, deep-sea coral ecosystems are being destroyed by commercial fishing, especially bottom trawling.

"Bottom-trawling in the deep-sea is like clear-cutting a pristine ancient forest. Each trawl destroys everything in its path. In the interest of catching a few fish, hundreds of species -some of which have not even been identified - are destroyed," said Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner Carmen Gravatt.

Deep-sea bottom trawlers are fishing vessels that drag huge nets with steel weights or heavy rollers along the seafloor to catch Deep Water fish species. The trawls smash corals and sponges and rip them from the seafloor. New Zealand has one of the largest deep-water bottom trawl fishing fleets in the world. The New Zealand government has recently taken steps to protect 19 areas within their Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) from bottom trawl fishing but that move is being challenged by the Orange Roughy Management Company.

The Scientists urge the UN to establish a moratorium on bottom trawling on the High Seas. They also call on nations and states to ban bottom trawling to protect deep-sea ecosystems wherever coral forests and reefs are known to occur within their EEZ.

"Governments at the Convention on Biological Diversity must pass a resolution recommending that the United Nations General Assembly adopt an immediate moratorium on high seas bottom trawling and put an immediate halt to this destructive activity," said Thilo Maack of Greenpeace

For more information contact:

Carmen Gravatt, Greenpeace New Zealand oceans campaigner 021 302 251 Thilo Maack of Greenpeace, currently in Malaysia: + 49 171 878 0841 Suzette Jackson, Greenpeace communications officer 021 577 556 Dr Steve O'Shea, Senior Research Fellow (AUT) 027-245-1096

(1) Listed three of the eleven New Zealand Scientists who are signatories to the statement: Dr Steve O'Shea, PhD Auckland University of Technology, Auckland Carolyn Lundquist, PhD National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Hamilton Juan Armando Sanchez, PhD National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Wellington

(2) Go to: to see the Statement, complete list of signatories, as well as striking photographs of deep-sea corals and the impacts of trawling on seafloor ecosystems that reporters may use, with appropriate acknowledgment.

Appendix 1:

Scientists' Statement on Protecting the World's Deep-sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems

As marine scientists and conservation biologists, we are profoundly concerned 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.

Shallow-water coral reefs are sometimes called "the rainforests of the sea" for their extraordinary biological diversity, perhaps the highest anywhere on Earth. However, until quite recently, few people - even marine scientists - knew that the majority of coral species live in colder, darker depths, or that some of these form coral reefs and forests similar to those of shallow waters in appearance, species richness and importance to fisheries. Lophelia coral reefs in cold waters of the Northeast Atlantic have over 1,300 species of invertebrates, and over 850 species of macro- and megafauna were recently found on seamounts in the Tasman and Coral Seas, as many as in a shallow-water coral reef. Because seamounts are essentially undersea islands, many seamount species are endemics - species that occur nowhere else - and are therefore exceptionally vulnerable to extinction. Moreover, marine scientists have observed large numbers of commercially important but increasingly uncommon groupers and redfish among the sheltering structures of deep-sea coral reefs.

Finally, because of their longevity, some deep-sea corals can serve as archives of past climate conditions that are important to understanding global climate change. In short, based on current knowledge, deep-sea coral and sponge communities appear to be as important to the biodiversity of the oceans and the sustainability of fisheries as their analogues in shallow tropical seas.

In recent years scientists have discovered deep-sea corals and/or coral reefs in Japan, Tasmania, New Zealand, Alaska, California, Nova Scotia, Maine, North Carolina, Florida, Colombia, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, UK, Ireland and Mauritania. Because research submarines and remotely operated vehicles suitable for studying the deep sea are few and expensive to operate, scientific investigation of these remarkable communities is in its very early stages. But it is increasingly clear that deep-sea corals usually inhabit places where natural disturbance is rare, and where growth and reproduction appear to be exceedingly slow. Deep-sea corals and sponges may live for centuries, making them and the myriad species that depend on them extremely slow to recover from disturbance.

Unfortunately, just as scientists have begun to understand the diversity, importance and vulnerability of deep-sea coral forests and reefs, humans have developed technologies that profoundly disturb them. There is reason for concern about deep-sea oil and gas development, deep-sea mining and global warming, but, at present, the greatest human threat to coral and sponge communities is commercial fishing, especially bottom trawling.

Trawlers are vessels that drag large, heavily weighted nets across the seafloor to catch fishes and shrimps. Scientific studies around the world have shown that trawling is devastating to corals and sponges. As trawlers become more technologically sophisticated, and as fishes disappear from shallower areas, trawling is increasingly occurring at depths exceeding 1,000 meters.

It is not too late to save most of the world's deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems. We commend nations including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Norway, which have already taken initial steps towards protecting some coral and sponge ecosystems under their jurisdiction. We urge the United Nations and appropriate international bodies to establish a moratorium on bottom trawling on the High Seas. Similarly, we urge individual nations and states to ban bottom trawling to protect deep-sea ecosystems wherever coral forests and reefs are known to occur within their Exclusive Economic Zones.

We urge them to prohibit roller and rockhopper trawls and any similar technologies that allow fishermen to trawl on the rough bottoms where deep-sea coral and sponge communities are most likely to occur. We urge them to support research and mapping of vulnerable deep-sea coral and sponge communities. And we urge them to establish effective, representative networks of marine protected areas that include deep-sea coral and sponge communities.


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