discovery: deep sea corals
Fact, not ction—corals really do exist, and our-ish, hundreds and even thousands of feet belowthe ocean’s surface. In the last few decades, cam-eras have recorded beautiful gardens of deep seacoral off the coasts of North America, Europe,Australia and New Zealand—even deeper thanJules Verne imagined, and every bit as breath-taking. Unlike shallow water coral communities,which are the subject of many nature lms, deepsea corals are unfamiliar to the public and evento many marine scientists.Remarkably, scientists have discovered thatsome of the largest coral structures in theworld are found in waters too deep for sunlightto reach.
Moreover, two-thirds of all knowncoral species live in deep, cold, and dark waters.
These beautiful and valuable animals are amongthe oldest living organisms on Earth; some reefshave been found to be several thousand years old,and some individual corals several hundred.
4, 5, 6
remarkable deep seacommunities
Deep sea coral reefs can have levels of biologicaldiversity comparable to shallow water reefs—andhundreds of species of corals and associated sealife have yet to be discovered or described.
5 ,7, 8
Although our understanding of deep sea coralcommunities is still incomplete, it is clear that inmany cases, they are important to the survival ofother species, including commercially importantsh populations.
out of sight, out of mind—human threatsto deep sea corals
As our knowledge of these remarkable communi-ties improves, along with our understanding oftheir important role in deep sea life, a clear pic-ture has emerged. Human activities below thewaves are causing massive—and largely unno-ticed—destruction of corals found in the colddepths of the ocean. Even more troubling, dam-aged deep sea corals are not likely to recover forhundreds of years, if at all.
While many activities can harm deep sea cor-als, including oil exploration and seabed mining,the biggest human threat is destructive shing.Bottom trawling in particular has pulverizedthese communities and ripped many of themfrom the seabed.
10, 13, 38
Some forty percent ofthe world’s trawling grounds are now deeperthan the edge of the continental shelf
—on theslopes and in the canyons of the continental mar-gins, and on seamounts (undersea mountains)—where most of the world’s known deep sea coralcommunities are found. Unfortunately, few poli-cies specically protect these communities frombottom trawling and other destructive shingpractices anywhere in the world.
what needs to be done?
This report contains specic recommendationsto address the tragic loss of deep sea corals. Infact, they can be summarized in the two stepsrecommended by ICES—
locate deep sea coralsand prohibit trawls from destroying them
.Although awareness of the threats to deep seacorals is growing, we must act soon to preventthese ‘coral kingdoms’ from becoming as imagi-nary as those in
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
“Towing a heavy trawl net through a cold water coral reef is a bit like driving abulldozer through a nature reserve. The onlypractical way of protecting these reefs istherefore to nd out where they are and thenprevent boats from trawling over them.”
David Grifth, General Secretary of the scientic advisory body ICES,the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea
OUT OF SIGHT, BUT NO LONGER OUT OF MIND