After campaigning by Oceana and our allies, the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in the south of Brazil just above Uruguay, has approved a law to ban bottom trawling in state waters. These new protections extend along the entire length of the state’s 620-kilometer coast and cover a distance out to 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) from shore. In total, an area of more than 13,000 square kilometers is now protected from bottom trawling, a destructive fishing technique. Brazil’s fisheries have been threatened by overfishing and poor management, and 90 percent of the state’s fish industries have closed in the last 30 years. As a result, the new protections were welcomed by both conservationists and fishers as a measure that would help restore the long-term health of Brazil’s fisheries.
Malta Expands Habitat Protections in Mediterranean
The government of Malta has announced the designation or expansion of eight marine protected areas in the Mediterranean. This announcement is the result of Oceana efforts that began in 2013, and the protections are based on the findings of two Oceana expeditions (2015 and 2016 LIFE BaĦAR Expeditions). Oceana mapped out sandbanks, reefs and more than 89 marine caves through use of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and scuba divers. After collecting and analyzing 310 hours of ROV footage and thousands of photos, we delivered a list of proposed sites for protection to the Maltese government that included seagrass meadows, bamboo coral gardens and habitat for cnidarians, sponges, a variety of other invertebrates and fish. With these new measures, 35 percent of Malta’s waters are now protected. As a designation made under the Natura 2000 framework, national authorities are now responsible for drafting a management plan within six years – a key step toward ensuring the continued protection of these areas.
After campaigning by Oceana and its allies, the Philippines government created a marine protected area in Benham Bank, declaring 50,000 hectares as a strict protection zone where only scientific research will be permitted, as well as an additional 300,000 hectare Fisheries Management Area where active fishing gear will be banned. Oceana’s 2016 expedition documented the stunning biodiversity and abundance in the region, and these new measures will help protect marine life including mesophotic (twilight) coral reefs, whales, dolphins, sharks, rays and sea turtles. The area is also a spawning area for Pacific bluefin tuna, one of the most valuable fish on Earth.
In a unanimous vote, the Pacific Fishery Management Council acted to protect more than 140,000 square miles of seafloor from bottom trawling, a destructive fishing practice in which heavy fishing gear is dragged across the seabed. This action will safeguard a unique variety of coral gardens, sponge beds, rocky reefs, and deep-sea ecosystems that provide nurseries, food and shelter for many species — including lingcod, sablefish, flatfish, sharks, rays and more than 60 species of rockfish — important for both ocean abundance and commercial and recreational fishing. This victory for ocean diversity will more than double the area of protected seafloor in U.S. waters off California, Oregon, and Washington. The fishery council's action will also restore fishing opportunities by opening some historic fishing grounds that were previously closed to bottom trawling while overfished rockfish populations recovered. This outcome comes after a decade of campaigning by Oceana and its allies and builds on previous work which secured more than 135,000 square miles of West Coast seafloor protections in 2006. Once these new measures are implemented, more than 90 percent of the U.S. West Coast's Exclusive Economic Zone (3-200 miles from shore) will be protected from bottom trawling.
In a huge victory for Oceana, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet protected 262,000 square kilometers of ocean surrounding the Juan Fernandez Islands. As documented by Oceana’s expeditions, these islands, among the most biodiverse and productive ocean places on the planet, are home to wildlife found nowhere else on the planet. Oceana worked closely with the local communities and small-scale fishers over several years to win protections for the sea while also preserving their own sustainable lobster and fishing efforts. Oceana also partnered with National Geographic's Pristine Seas project on this closure via joint expeditions, reports and direct advocacy. As a result of the Juan Fernandez announcement and other closures resulting from campaigns by Oceana and it allies, 25 percent of Chile's ocean is now protected as no-take marine parks. This milestone has made Chile a true global leader in ocean conservation.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet created a protected area encompassing over 6,702 square kilometers around the southern town of Tortel. The proposal to protect Tortel was supported by Oceana over several years, and our five expeditions to the area brought the species hidden below the surface — including Chilean dolphins and colorful sponges and corals — to life. Caleta Tortel is a top destination for visitors to Chile's Patagonia. There are no streets in this small, picturesque town; all the houses are connected by wooden walkways. Two years ago, the fjords at Caleta Tortel were threatened by the installation of salmon fish farms, which often wreak havoc on marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. Now, thanks to these protections, Tortel will be protected from salmon farming and other development that could irreparably damage this unique ecosystem.
Following ten years of campaigning and Oceana expeditions in 2005, 2011 and 2012, the Portuguese government declared Gorringe Bank a protected Site of Community Interest. This special marine region includes two seamounts, Gettysburg and Ormonde, extending from depths of 28 meters below sea level to more than 5,000 meters. Oceana’s expeditions and research revealed more than 350 species living in this biodiverse zone. Oceana was the first organization to document and photograph Gorringe Bank and drive the campaign for its protection.
Denmark presented plans for six new marine protected areas (MPAs) in Kattegat, which connects the Baltic and North Seas. The new MPAs will be protected from dangerous human activity, such as bottom trawling, which disturbs seafloor habitat. The new MPAs have been selected in part from Oceana’s findings of rare Haploops crustaceans and horse mussel communities during the expeditions in 2011 and 2012. Oceana first proposed protections for the area in 2011. With these new MPAs, Denmark is taking a leading role in Europe in protecting these vital soft-bottom habitat.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a final rule to maintain approximately 12,620 square miles of existing conservation area in order to protect overfished rockfish populations off the U.S. West Coast. This decision was a direct response to scientific information submitted by Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). All three organizations are working together to ensure the recovery of overfished rockfish species and the conservation of ocean habitats. Cold-water corals and underwater reefs are among other seafloor habitats that will remain closed to bottom trawling under this final rule. Oceana, NRDC and other organizations have active conservation proposals before the Pacific Council that would designate parts of the “Rockfish Conservation Area” (RCA) as “Essential Fish Habitat” conservation areas, closed to bottom trawling.
Mediterranean countries and the EU decided to protect 11 species of deep-sea corals at the 18th COP to the Barcelona Convention. They also decided to implement the Action Plan on Dark Habitats, a scientific document drafted in part by Oceana, which will enable the creation of marine protected areas in deep-sea habitats like seamounts, submarine canyons, and caves. Many of these deep-sea habitats are unprotected, despite being extremely vulnerable to human activities like pollution, overfishing, and climate change.