Why preserving deep-sea corals is good for fish (and for us)

© OCEANA

Author: Natividad Sánchez
Date: October 9, 2013



We often see it on TV – beautiful tropical coral reefs with sun rays travelling through blue water and colourful fish swimming around happily. But what happens hundreds of metres below the surface? Well, basically the same thing – except the image is that of cold water coral reefs in total darkness with stranger looking fish swimming happily around.

The thing is,  fish do more than just swim to and fro –they feed themselves, spawn and reproduce, and these places are essential habitats for them. Deep-water coral and sponge ecosystems are biodiversity hotspots because they provide shelter in the normally flat, featureless surroundings. They are like cities in the middle of nowhere.

For deep-sea species, there is no point in being colourful, since they live in the dark, so the images of these habitats almost look like a black and white film. Yet they are probably the most amazing and unexpected postcards of wildlife on the planet. You could wait until the Voyager 1 spacecraft finds extraordinary life forms out in space, or you could enjoy looking at these in the meantime.

Unfortunately,  video cameras aren’t the only devices that can reachthese depths. Some fisheries use destructive gears, like bottom trawls that reach hundreds of metres deep, and recently drilling and mining activities have been adding to this threat.

This is why we wanted to raise this concern at Wild10 and Xavier Pastor, executive director for Oceana in Europe, spoke about it yesterday: “Fishermen acknowledge that the disappearance of corals and sponges influences the fish distribution in the area. Due to the extremely slow growth of deep-sea species in general, it takes centuries for corals to recover, so the coming generations of fishermen won’t even be aware of what is lost”.

The time to save tomorrow’s corals and fish is now, and we can’t afford losing something that is so unique.