Sharks and rays in the Mediterranean have something to be happy about this week—10 species now have special protections under the Barcelona Convention.
These 10 species—including hammerheads and shortfin makos—have suffered significant population losses. Shark and ray numbers have declined and some species are nowhere to be seen in areas where they were once common.
Today’s decision allows the EU to formalize protection for these important predators. It’s a step in the right direction for the EU, which recently delayed measures that would have limited overfishing in European waters.
“These vulnerable sharks and rays have been granted the legal protection that they urgently require,” according to Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research at Oceana Europe. Now that the legal protections are in place, the next step will depend on locating where the protected species remain in the Mediterranean, and implementing strict protection measures in those areas.
Sharks and rays are some of the oldest fish in the ocean—the oldest shark relative is estimated to be up to 450 million years old. And now some species have lost 99% of their population in just the last century. Overfishing is a huge threat to these living fossils, and if we want them to be around in the future, we have to act now.
The wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia in Italy is a sobering human tragedy, with at least 11 deaths and more missing. Sadly, it could become an environmental tragedy as well.
The Costa Concordia capsized Friday night near the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, the largest marine sanctuary in the Mediterranean. The park is home to a variety of dolphins and whales, and its corals and seagrass create an important habitat for a variety of other plants and animals. Oceana visited the area during a 2006 expedition, documenting the health of the marine life there.
If the ship’s fuel leaks before the salvage team has a chance to drain it, the endangered and threatened species that live near the wreck will suffer.
"The tragic wreck occurred in a protected area that is home to many endangered species, so a spill would cause severe damage to organisms such as cetaceans, sharks and coral," said Ricardo Aguilar, research director at Oceana Europe. This would be a great tragedy for the area, which in the past has suffered coral death due to climate change.
We here at Oceana extend our sympathy to the victims and their families. We can only hope that the tragedy ends here, and does not have a lasting impact on the underwater inhabitants of Giglio Island.
Our crew aboard the Ranger spotted this charming seabird near Spain’s Gibraltar Strait.
Puffins feed by diving for fish underwater, using its strong wings to swim. They breed in large clifftop colonies, and the puffin parents take turns incubating the egg.
Puffins eat only a few species of fish, including capelin. As a result, commercial capelin fisheries in Canada, Norway, Iceland and Russia pose a threat for Atlantic puffins. Capelin are mainly used for fish meal and oil industry products.
Check out a slideshow of stunning photos from this year's Ranger expedition so far!
News from the deep: Oceana's crew aboard the Ranger has discovered a previously undocumented coral reef in the Alboran Sea in the high seas of the Mediterranean.
The reef, which is located more than 1,300 feet below the surface and covers over 1 million square feet, is formed primarily by white coral. With this discovery, Oceana with be able to glean additional data from the reef to support our efforts to declare new marine protected areas in the Mediterranean.
Coral reefs are the backbone of many marine ecosystems, and deep-sea corals area among the most vulnerable. Tragically, many reefs are destroyed by bottom trawling, a fishing technique akin to clear-cutting that devastates coral reefs and creates seafloor wastelands devoid of life.
And coral reefs aren’t the only habitats that suffer. The area around the newly discovered reef is flourishing with other important habitats including gorgonian gardens and rare glass sponge fields. In order to protect this region, Oceana is planning to present the data to the Barcelona Convention in the near future, pressing officials to list it as a protected area.
Exciting news from across the pond: Oceana scientists, along with scientists from German and Italian universities, have identified carnivorous sponges in the deep waters of the Mediterranean in Spain and Italy.
Although the species, Asbestopluma hypogea, was first discovered in the 1990s, very little was known about it until recently. Oceana’s research vessel, Ranger, made crucial discoveries about the sponge’s habitat using an underwater robot (ROV) during its 2007 and 2010 expeditions.
Asbestopluma hypogea is no ordinary sea sponge. Most sea sponges obtain nutrients by filtering tiny food particles out of the surrounding water as it flows past the sponge – but not Asbestopluma hypogea. This tiny carnivorous sea sponge has adapted to life in areas where food is scarce. They capture small crustaceans using filaments covered with hook-like spicules, taking more than 10 days to finish each meal. And that’s despite having no digestive tract, limited mobility and being very tiny (between 1 and 1.5 centimeters). How cool is that?
It’s a busy and exciting time of year for our campaigners on the water -- and for those of us who get to see the photos and videos of the incredible marine life and habitats that they send back to land.
As you know if you’ve been following the blog for the past week or so, we have a team off the coast of Oregon right now exploring important ecological areas. And today, our team in Europe is launching its seventh annual summer expedition.
This year the Oceana catamaran, Ranger, will sail for two months through the western Mediterranean and the Atlantic to study seamounts and sea canyons, ocean environments that are rich in biodiversity but relatively unexplored due to their depth and complex terrains. That’s where our scientists, divers and underwater robot (ROV) come in.
In one of the most exciting aspects of this year’s expedition, Oceana will collaborate with Portuguese government officials and scientists to investigate the Gorringe Bank, a little-explored seamount and an oasis of biodiversity southwest of Portugal. Oceana last surveyed these waters in 2005, but this time around, using the ROV, the team will be exploring and documenting areas more than 2,500 feet -- that’s about half a mile! -- below the surface of the ocean.
The ROV will record high-resolution videos and photos, which will ultimately be used to propose the creation of marine protected areas and other conservation measures.
We can’t wait to see what our teams find in the ocean’s depths. We’ll keep you updated as the journey progresses!
Great news in the battle against illegal fishing: Morocco has passed an amendment banning the use, possession, manufacture or sale of driftnets.
Known as “curtains of death,” driftnets are a type of illegal fishing gear that can be nearly 100 feet high and 12 miles long. Because they are so passive and indiscriminate, driftnets snag whatever’s in their path, including many marine mammals and other endangered species.
The UN passed an international moratorium on driftnets 15 years ago, and the EU instituted a ban seven years ago, but many French, Italian and Moroccan vessels have continued using them.
Our research catamaran, Ranger, is currently at sea for its annual expedition, and the crew recently made an incredible discovery in the depths of the Western Mediterranean Sea.
Using a deep-diving ROV, they discovered large colonies of deep-sea white coral, which is significant considering that most of the Mediterranean’s deep-sea coral reefs have already been destroyed by bottom trawling and longline fishing.
Most of the research conducted in the Mediterranean to date has found only dead coral; in fact, Ranger’s crew found live colonies of deep-sea coral coexisting with large expanses of dead coral.
The reef, which Ranger found in Spain’s Alboran Sea, is one of the richest and most threatened ecosystems in the Mediterranean, forming a habitat for species such as redfish, roughy, red seabream and countless others.
You can read the Ranger’s on-board diaries for more on this year’s expedition.
In a big victory for our colleagues in Europe, yesterday the EU Court of Justice found Italy in violation of EU law for the country's continued use of driftnets, a fishing gear banned since 2002.
Driftnets, which float freely, sometimes for miles, are a serious threat to cetaceans, sea turtles, sharks and fish in the Mediterranean. Hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins are killed each year by driftnets.
The day before the decision, Oceana presented its latest report on the use of driftnets in the Mediterranean and stressed that the Court's judgment was an essential step in eradicating the use of the fishing gear.
The Oceana report contains photographs from 2008 of 92 vessels with driftnets on board, 80 percent had already been identified during campaigns in previous years.
Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe, said, “The judgment is an important milestone in the elimination of driftnets from the Mediterranean. At last we may be moving towards the end of this illegal fishing gear, seven years after the EU banned their use."
Over several years of campaigning in the Mediterranean, Oceana has documented and reported how driftnets, despite the ban, continue to be used, not only in Italy, but also in other areas of the Mediterranean such as Morocco, Turkey, and until recently, France.
Congratulations, Xavier and team!