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June 4, 2004

Wanted! Seas and Oceans. Dead or Alive?

BY: Santi

That’s not an environmental group’s message, though it might as well have been. It’s the theme chosen by the United Nations Environment Programme for this year’s World Environment Day, June 5. As UNEP puts it, the “theme asks that we make a choice as to how we want to treat the Earth’s seas and oceans. It also calls on each and every one of us to act. Do we want to keep seas and oceans healthy and alive or polluted and dead?”

Photo credit Alaska, Alberto Lindner, NOAA

The oceans are vast of course, and our impacts on them many, so we are unfortunately spoilt for choice when deciding which issues to work on. It is heartwarming then that UNEP has highlighted deep water corals as a new Global Conservation Challenge, paralleling the focus of Oceana’s ongoing Stop Destructive Trawling campaign.

The plight of deep sea coral and sponge communities has come to light only in the last few years, but has been so dramatic that several countries have already closed off large areas of the seabed to bottom trawling, the main cause of their destruction. These remarkable animals are very similar to the shallow water varieties we all love to snorkel over, except that they are found hundreds or thousands of feet below the surface. They are among of the oldest creatures on the planet, some having been around since before the discovery of the Americas, and others being old already when the Roman Empire fell. The vast majority of these communities are still unprotected from our more damaging activities.

Photo credit California, MBARI/NOAA

UNEP plans on releasing a report next month entitled, “Cold-Water Coral Reefs: Out of Sight- No Longer Out of Mind.” Ring a bell with anyone? For those of you new to Oceana, “Out of Sight, but no Longer out of Mind” was the tagline of our deep sea coral report last year. The reports share other similarities. The new report, though not yet released, promises to expand on the information presented in our report. It documents cold water corals from areas as far apart as Galapagos Islands and Brazil and Indonesia and Angola, as well as in the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans off Great Britain, Scandinavia, Canada, and the US, and off Australia and New Zealand. It is also likely to strengthen calls for greater conservation of these spectacular deep sea communities.

So, thank-you to everyone involved with Oceana, in whatever way, small or large. It’s good to see our work, enabled by you, paying off in such a big way.

UNEP’s press release on Deep Sea Corals and Oceana’s report are both available online.