Landmark Study Finds Deep Sea Coral Forests In Grave Danger | Oceana

Landmark Study Finds Deep Sea Coral Forests In Grave Danger

Press Release Date: October 6, 2009

Location: Washington


Anna Baxter | email:
Anna Baxter

Oceana today released a groundbreaking report on deep sea coral destruction. The coral report, entitled Deep Sea Corals: Out of Sight, But No Longer Out of Mind, is the first ever comprehensive review of deep sea corals produced for the general public. According to the report, over 231,000 square miles of seafloor habitat off the U.S. coast (an area roughly equivalent to the state of California) – including many stands of irreplaceable deep sea coral – are under pressure each year from destructive bottom trawling. Corals are living animals that can congregate in spectacular colonies towering up to ten feet tall. Yet these minute animals are extremely slow growing—less than one inch a year—and are ultra-sensitive to disturbance. The report details the need for immediate action to protect corals and other marine life as a way to preserve ocean ecosystems.

“Bottom trawling is the most widespread human threat to deep sea coral communities,” the report explains. “In Alaskan waters alone, the National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that over one million pounds of corals and sponges are removed from the seafloor every year by commercial fishing, roughly 90 percent by bottom trawlers. These estimates may grossly underestimate the actual level of damage as many of the corals and sponges are crushed and not pulled to the surface and counted by observers.” Most importantly, the report emphasizes, the actual damage could be even greater than is presently known, as scientists are only beginning to document how widespread and important deep sea corals are.

Based in large part on the findings of the report, Oceana announced today that it has launched a national campaign against destructive trawling and dredging, the primary killers of corals, non-target fish and ocean life. While some bottom trawls routinely kill corals, other forms of bottom fishing, such as scallop dredges, continue to kill millions of unintentionally caught fish, sea turtles and marine mammals every year. Oceana’s campaign to preserve sea life by banning destructive trawling is part of its overall mission to protect our oceans for future generations.

“Corals are like redwoods of the oceans,” explained Dr. Michael Hirshfield, Chief Scientist at Oceana. “They’re beautiful, and they’ve survived for thousands of years. But they provide so much more to our oceans than beauty. Corals are spawning and nursery grounds, providing shelter and safety from predators. When bottom trawlers bulldoze them, whatever fish aren’t killed in the process lose their homes. The report shows that we need to act now, not ten years from now. We simply don’t have that much time.”

In response to the findings of the report, Oceana announced a multi-year campaign which will seek to:

*Through fishery management councils, designate all deep sea corals as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern protected from bottom trawling.

*Petition the Secretary of Commerce to exercise his emergency jurisdictional authority to protect cold water corals and the habitats in which they occur from all mobile bottom-tending fishing gear.

*Petition the Secretary of Commerce to provide Endangered Species Act protection for some of the rarest of deep sea corals, Oculina varicosa, found off the coast of southeastern U.S.

*Pass the Ocean Habitat Protection Act of 2003, a landmark bill authored by U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colorado), which would ban certain types of fishing gears that pulverize the seafloor.

*Pass similar legislation in the United States Senate.

*Work with California officials to pass a bill restricting bottom trawling in the California legislature.

*Change federal fisheries policy by significantly restricting the use of bottom trawls and other destructive fishing gears at the regional fishery management council levels.

*Educate conservationists, fishermen and the general public about the devastation caused by bottom trawling.

“Deep sea corals, which are particularly vital to marine ecosystems, are perhaps the most vulnerable to bottom trawling of all forms of marine life,” Hirshfield continued. “We’ve seen what happened to our great redwood forests. We cannot let that happen to our coral forests when we have the power to protect them.”

Oceana is a non-profit international advocacy organization dedicated to restoring and protecting the world’s oceans through policy advocacy, science, law and public education. Founded in 2001, Oceana’s constituency includes members and activists from more than 150 countries and territories who are committed to saving the world’s marine environment. Oceana, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has additional offices in key U.S. coastal areas, a South American office in Santiago, Chile, and will open a European office in fall of 2003. For more information, please visit