We are thrilled to announce another ocean victory this week! In an ambitious step for ocean protection, Portugal has decided to nominate the rich ecosystem of the Gorringe Bank as a new Marine Protected Area.
The Gorringe seamounts, located 300 kilometers off the coast of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, are a marvel to behold: at 5000 meters high, they boast a veritable kaleidoscope of colorful flora and fauna. Since 2005, Oceana has worked to draw attention and recognition to this bank, and to bring its spectacular seamount ranges into the network of marine protected areas.
An Oceana expedition by our catamaran, the Ranger, to the Gorringe area in October 2012 documented species never before seen in these seamounts, including branching black coral, roughskin dogfish, hydrocoral, bird’s nest sponge, and various gorgonia. Dozens of the species observed on this expedition have not yet been identified. Unfortunately, among these unique wonders, the expedition also documented the invasive presence of litter, debris, and fishing gear, particularly in the rocky seabeds of the banks.
The nomination of the Gorringe as a protected area in the Atlantic brings hope for a halt and even a reversal of the destruction of this complex and diverse ecosystem that hosts corals, sharks, seabirds, whales, and more. Currently, Portugal maintains the least marine protected surface in all of Europe. With this ambitious project, however, the Portuguese government looks to soar from the bottom of the list to the top. Boasting more than 1.7 square kilometers in its Exclusive Economic Zone and nearly 4 million square kilometers claimed as an expansion of its continental shelf, Portugal’s bold step for the oceans is an admirable example for the EU, and for all coastal countries of the world.
Take a dive and witness one of the most remote but ecologically diverse habitats in the world: the seamounts off of Chile. Seamounts are underwater mountain ranges where nutrient-rich water from the depths comes up to the surface and fuels an explosion of colorful marine life. In these coral gardens fish and other animals concentrate to feed and breed before colonizing other areas of the ocean. The above video, put together by our office in Santiago captures this wealth of beauty and diversity and outlines its threats.
Thanks to the relentless campaigning of Oceana the protections discussed in this video came to pass last month as the Chilean senate voted to close all 118 of its seamounts to bottom trawling as a precaution and radically overhaul the country's fisheries regulations. Oceana supporter Ted Danson and Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless discussed these landmark changes in a recent Huffington Post article:
In the course of a year Chile has gone from a country in which the fishing industry makes its own rules, plowing unseen wonders to oblivion and driving species to the brink, to one in which the interests of the ecosystem come first. Ironically, when this approach is embraced it usually works to the advantage of fishing fleets, ending the boom and bust cycle of overfishing and actually increasing the yields of their fisheries.
Learn more about the great work our team in South America is doing.
As you enjoy those last holiday cookies before the New Year comes with its resolutions, we’d love to share one final present for you to enjoy: we are thrilled to announce that last week, the country of Chile became the first in the world to protect all of its seamounts from the devastating effects of bottom trawling! Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless and actor and Oceana board member Ted Danson collaborated in an article published by the Huffington Post to share this excellent news with the world.
Seamounts are underwater mountain ranges that are home to an unbelievable array of sea creatures fed by the nutrient-rich water from the deep upwells. The destructive practice of bottom trawling, where large, heavy nets weighing as much as several tons each effectively clear-cut everything living on the seafloor, causes more direct and avoidable damage to the ocean floor and its creatures than any other human activity in the world. Although some of Chile’s seamounts have already been damaged or destroyed by the country’s fishing fleet, the December 20 decision closes any further trawling to Chile’s 118 seamounts until scientists have assessed these and other underwater ecosystems off the coast of Chile.
It has been a whirlwind few weeks in Chile, where Oceana’s hard work has paid off in some monumental policy victories.
Last week the Chilean senate passed sweeping new fisheries regulations that, simply put, place the health of the oceans ahead of the short-term interests of the fishing industry.
After being proposed by Oceana in 2009, the Chilean senate agreed last week to close all 118 of Chile’s seamounts to bottom trawling. Seamounts are underwater mountain ranges where nutrient-rich water upwells from the deep, fueling a staggering array of biodiversity. The greatest beneficiary of these new measures will be marine life, especially that of the volcanic Juan Fernandez Islands, a remote archipelago and a regular haunt of bottom trawlers.
The new laws will also impose science-based fishing quotas and drastically reduce the incidental capture and discarding of unwanted species, known as bycatch. To do this, the new laws require improved monitoring on Chilean fishing vessels. For the bottom fishing fleet, this means that 100% of ships will require on-board observers to collect information about vulnerable marine ecosystems.
These changes would not have happened without Oceana and during the passage of this historic legislation several senators as well as the Chilean Minister of the Economy singled out our organization for special commendation.
As our executive director of Oceana in Chile, Alex Muñoz, said: “Protecting the seafloor from destructive activities, such as bottom trawling, especially in seamounts and other vulnerable marine ecosystems, is a fundamental measure for responsible fishing.”
All this comes just after President Sebastian Pinera announced he would seek to expand the Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park off of Easter Island. No larger than Washington D.C., Easter Island is the world’s most remote inhabited island on the planet—known chiefly to the rest of the world as the home of those inscrutable, stone-faced megaliths, the moai.
But the waters surrounding Easter Island hold treasures as well. Just over 200 miles to the northeast is Sala y Gómez, a desolate volcanic island - the rare mountaintop that pokes above the surface in a range of underwater seamounts. In 2010, after an expedition by Oceana and National Geographic uncovered thriving communities of red corals, Galapagos sharks, butterfly fish and more, President Piñera declared the 58,000 square miles of water surrounding Sala y Gomez a marine park, closed to commercial fishing.
Now, the president has announced that Chile will seek to expand that park to include the range of seamounts that link Sala y Gómez to Easter Island. The president and the government of Chile will next consult with the people of Easter Island, the Rapa Nui, and ask them to endorse this plan.
We have been advocating for the protection of these special places for years and, thanks to your support, future generations will be able to partake of their beauty and diversity.
Our friends in Europe have wrapped up the Oceana Ranger's 2012 expedition, capturing more than 100 hours of footage documenting the incredible variety of life, both familiar and bizarre, living on underwater mountains known as seamounts off the coast of Spain and Portugal. What they documented, as seen in these pictures taken at the Seco de los Olivos or Chella Bank seamount a mere 10 miles off the coast of El Ejido, Spain, seems fitting in the run-up to Halloween. Above, the ghoulish specter of a rough shark approaches the Ranger's underwater robot, or ROV. Below, a posse of some 20 conger eels peek out from the sheer face of a seamount cliff.
Oceana's work on the seamount has uncovered octopus, monkfish, Norway lobster, coral communities and even a carnivorous sponge. As Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director of Oceana in Europe says, this is truly unique habitat and one that can be destroyed in an instant by such human activities as bottom trawling:
“The images obtained . . . have confirmed that fact that Seco de los Olivos is one of the marine areas with the highest environmental interest in Spain. However, as this is a small seamount, relatively close to the shore, it is in a state of constant deterioration from recreational and commercial fishing, and so management of the area is urgently needed if we want to preserve its abundant natural wealth”.
Using this footage, in 2013 Oceana will be joining a coordinated effort to try to put conservation measures in place for these biodiversity hotspots. Learn more about the Oceana Ranger here.
All pictures © Oceana
Today the European Commission proposed new catch limits for 2013 and 2014 that will allow fishermen to exploit some little-known but important deep-sea fishes against the advice of scientists. As this video of the European deep-sea prepared by our European office demonstrates, even though light doesn’t penetrate to the ocean bottom, it's still thriving with life. It's a strange world and the animals themselves often have fittingly strange names, like the Mediterranean slimehead, greater forkbeard, and conger, to name a few.
Some species, like the roundnose grenadier, blue ling and red seabream, need special protection. Executive Director of Oceana Europe, Xavier Pastor explains why:
“Due to their biological characteristics, like low reproduction, slow growth rate and late maturity, deep sea species are highly vulnerable to overexploitation. Their management must, now more than ever, follow the precautionary approach.”
European fishermen have increasingly turned to scouring the deep-sea for fish as more traditional stocks have fallen and pirate fishermen have been able to hammer stocks of threatened deep-sea sharks through the sale of shark liver oil in the EU.
Right now Oceana’s research vessel, the Oceana Ranger, is sailing off of the picturesque Algarve section of Portugal using an underwater robot, known as an ROV, to explore and document the scarcely seen world of seamounts, deep-sea coral reefs and seafloor habitat. It’s an effort that will help scientists develop conservation proposals and better protect this vital ecosystem--one that can be obliterated in an instant by bottom trawlers. Keep up with the Ranger expedition online and check out the latest pictures and video.
Oceana in Chile has been working for several years to keep bottom trawlers out of the most vulnerable marine ecosystems in the nation’s waters.
Back in 2009, we proposed a bill that would close all 118 seamounts in Chile to bottom trawlers, and this week our staff participated in a discussion of the bill by the Chilean Senate’s Fisheries Committee.
Bottom trawling, one of the most destructive forms of fishing, uses a huge, heavy net to scrape the seafloor. Trawlers are indiscriminate, which results in overfishing and the accidental entanglement of animals including sea turtles and marine mammals. And these heavy nets destroy everything in their paths, including coral reefs.
Chile’s seamounts are home to jewel-toned coral reefs and fish, mammals such as fur seals and sea lions, and many more beautiful and unusual creatures. Some of these seamounts are home to species that can be found no where else in the world. Every pass of a bottom trawler turns swaths of these seamounts into barren wastelands.
Oceana’s 2009 proposal would ban bottom trawling on all 118 seamounts until this fishing technique is scientifically proven not to damage the ecosystems in question. Estimates suggest that this ban would have affected only 0.09% of Chile’s seafood exports in 2009.
Alex Muñoz, Oceana’s Vice President for South America, said about the bill, “Protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems that are threatened by trawling not only is important from an ecological point of view but also enhances the productivity of the fisheries that depend on these habitats.”
South America has been making important strides to protect their vulnerable ecosystems. Last year, Chile created a 150,000 square kilometer no-take marine reserve around Sala y Gómez Island and Belize banned bottom trawling throughout its waters.
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!
Fantastic news from the international negotiations we told you about last week: the talks concluded on Friday with conservation measures that will protect more than 16.1 million square miles of seafloor habitat in the North Pacific Ocean from bottom trawling and other bottom contact gear.
Delegates also concluded negotiations on a new treaty. Once signed and ratified, it will establish a new fishery management organization charged with sustainably managing North Pacific Ocean fisheries.
Bottom trawls are massive weighted nets that drag along the ocean floor, destroying anything in their path, including ancient coral forests, gardens of anemones and entire fields of sea sponges. Today’s bottom trawlers go deeper and farther from shore than they could ever reach before, into high seas areas populated with slow-growing deep-sea fish and corals that are especially slow to recover from trawling. Nets can be 200 feet wide and 40 feet high, weighing as much as 1,000 pounds and reaching depths of more than 5,000 feet.
The U.S. government is nearing the conclusion of international negotiations for the management of fisheries on the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean. These quiet talks have been ongoing since April 2006 and are likely to conclude this week, which has huge implications for the oceans and Oceana’s work in the region.
Oceana has been participating in these meetings as a member of the U.S. delegation since 2007. Oceana’s Pacific Project Manager, Ben Enticknap, is at this week’s meeting in Vancouver, Canada, working to expand Oceana’s approach to freeze the footprint of bottom trawling and protect important ecological areas to international waters.
The negotiations are between the U.S., Canada, Japan, Russia, China, Korea and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) and are seeking to establish a new fishery management organization to sustainably manage fisheries on the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean, as well as to establish interim measures to protect “vulnerable marine ecosystems” like seamounts, deep-sea corals, sponges and hydrothermal vents from destructive fishing practices.