Malta Expands Habitat Protections in the Mediterranean and Protects 35% of its Waters
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 and scuba divers. With these new measures, 35% of Malta’s waters are now protected.
After campaigning by Oceana and its allies, the Philippine government created a marine protected area, declaring 500 square kilometers of rare underseas coral habitat as a strict protection zone where only scientific research will be permitted, as well as an additional 3,000 square kilometers 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 362,000 square miles of seafloor (an area equivalent to the size of Germany) 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.
In a huge victory for Oceana and our allies, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet protected 262,000 square kilometers of ocean surrounding the Juan Fernandez Islands (and area larger than the landmass of the United Kingdom). 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. As a result of the Juan Fernandez announcement and other closures resulting from campaigns by Oceana and its allies, 25% of Chile's ocean is now protected as no-take marine parks.
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. 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.
Trawling Ban in Key Habitats of the Balearic Islands
The Spanish government issued a protection order to prohibit trawling on the summits of Mallorca Channel seamounts and in the coral reef east of Cabrera. Oceana fought for the protection of these beds for seven years. Until now these unique habitats, including coralligenous communities and rhodolites beds, were continuously subject to degradation because of illegal fishing.