Portland, OR—Today, Oceana released a scientific report documenting the results of its 2011 expedition off Oregon’s southern coast. The report, Important Ecological Areas: Seafloor Habitat Expedition off the Southern Oregon Coast, provides a glimpse into the abundance of diverse and intriguing life that exists deep below the ocean’s surface. The findings will significantly advance the scientific understanding and need to protect these Important Ecological Areas (IEAs).
Oceana’s research team deployed a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to obtain high definition footage at 17 dive sites spanning from Oregon’s Cape Arago to Cape Blanco, and recorded 13.5 hours of video footage in depths of up to 228 meters (748 feet). This was the very first time underwater areas off Cape Arago and Coquille Reef had been observed and many novel discoveries were made.
“The rich and diverse habitats we documented include cold-water corals, sponges and overfished rockfish in places never before seen with underwater cameras,” said Ben Enticknap, Oceana’s Pacific Campaign Manager and Senior Scientist. “We hope this new information helps state and federal managers recognize the importance of these habitats and the value of protecting them from damaging activities such as bottom trawling.”
The expedition’s findings validated the need for existing protected areas, while suggesting further protections are necessary to protect habitat for managed fish species (referred to as essential fish habitat), sensitive seafloor habitat features, and complex physical and biological features like corals and sponges. The next step is to apply the findings of this report to enacting protections for IEAs off the southern Oregon coast.
“The single pass of a bottom trawl can damage these habitats for decades, if not centuries,” said Oceana’s California Program Director, Geoff Shester. “By bringing together this newly available science and careful planning, we can ensure these amazing places get lasting protections while supporting long-term sustainable fisheries for our coastal communities.”
As a result of fisheries management collaboration between Oceana, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and local fishermen, the Coquille Bank area Oceana surveyed was designated an “Essential Fish Habitat Conservation Area” by NMFS and closed to bottom trawling in 2006. The other areas studied, however, are not in any state or federal marine protected area status and still remain vulnerable to the impacts of bottom trawls, which drag weighted trawl doors and nets across the seafloor in pursuit of various groundfish species, but discriminately dredge up anything in their path, including plowing through nursery grounds for overfished species like yelloweye and canary rockfish.
Oceana submitted the report today to the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), which is conducting a review of the conservation and management of essential fish habitat off the U.S. West Coast. At its April 2013 meeting in Portland, Oregon the PFMC is scheduled to release a call for proposals for any new or modified habitat conservation areas off Oregon, Washington, and California, providing an opportunity to propose additional protections for ocean habitats such as those surveyed in Oceana’s study.
Underwater video of the nearshore reefs at Cape Arago are available at: http://oceana.org/en/our-work/oceana-on-the-water/pacific-hotspots/video
Video of West Coast Important Ecological Areas and Bottom Trawling is available at: http://oceana.org/en/blog/2012/09/the-hidden-world-of-the-pacific-seafloor