New Deep-sea Coral Discovery Highlights Need for Research and Protection Language in Magnuson-Stevens Act Reauthorization
Press Release Date: October 1, 2009
In light of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s announcement about the discovery of abundant reef building corals, Lophelia pertusa, in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary -–some of which may be outside areas recently protected from bottom trawling– Oceana calls on the U.S. House of Representatives to include language to protect and study deep-sea coral habitat in its reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act. These stony corals, commonly found in the Atlantic, were not known to exist in Pacific waters until quite recently.
Unlike the bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act reauthorization bill, H.R. 5018, which will likely go to the House floor in July, does not include language to allow U.S. fishery management councils specific authority to protect deep-sea coral habitat nor does it provide additional funding for research of deep-sea corals.
“Bi-partisan support exists in the House of Representatives to protect deep-sea coral habitat,” said Dave Allison, director of Oceana’s Stop Destructive Bottom Trawling campaign. “The inclusion of language to establish a deep-sea coral research program at NOAA and more aggressively protect deep-sea corals is a reasonable and effective way to help sustain our fisheries and oceans.”
Deep-sea corals and sponges are among some of the oldest animals on earth and are typically found along continental margins, seamounts, undersea canyons and ridges. Deep sea corals and sponges are long-lived and slow-growing species that are integral to many marine ecosystems and offer nurseries for many fish populations. Deep sea corals and sponges can take centuries to recover, if at all.
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act (S. 2012), authored by Senator Stevens (R-AK) and Inouye (D-HI) and passed by unanimous consent in the Senate, includes provisions establishing a deep sea coral research program at NOAA and clarifies that councils may take steps to protect deep sea corals as part of their fishery management plans without cumbersome bureaucratic processes.
“More than 1,100 marine scientists from around the world agree that deep-sea coral and sponge habitat is an essential part of sustaining the oceans,” said Jim Ayers, vice president of Oceana. “Today’s announcement about the discovery of more deep-sea corals in the Olympic Sanctuary shows we still have much to learn. The U.S. needs a federal policy that allows us to protect deep-sea coral and sponge habitat that doesn’t take years to implement, otherwise discoveries like this will be destroyed before there is ever a chance for protection.”