Keep track of trawlers ‘to protect coral reefs’

A marine biologist has called for the urgent installation of satellite tracking technology on board all large trawlers to stop the destruction of ancient cold-water coral reefs.

Dr Jason Hall-Spencer, of the University of Portsmouth, UK, believes only the establishment of deep-water conservation areas and use of black box-style equipment can save the corals that provide habitats for hundreds of unknown species.

The corals are being destroyed at an alarming rate by bottom trawling, which entails dragging huge nets equipped with heavy rollers, chains, and steel doors across the ocean floor.

Following a recent expedition to survey deep-water coral off western Ireland, Dr Hall-Spencer will today show footage at the festival of the damage done to the cold-water corals and previously unseen species they provide habitats for.

Dr Hall-Spencer said: “Few people realise we have such interesting, precious and dramatic habitats right on our doorstep.

“Some of these areas have yet to be explored, but even before we have had a chance to see their treasures, they are being bulldozed by deep-water trawling.

“It is crucial that we take steps to protect the coral reefs before it is too late.”

International efforts are being made to introduce protection for some of these areas. In March 2004, Europe’s first deep-water conservation area was designated in a coral-rich region first discovered off Scotland in 1998.

Unfortunately policing the area is expensive as protection officers are sent on board ship to monitor their activities.

Dr Hall-Spencer spent several months on the German research vessel Polarstern, using a French survey robot to study recently discovered deep-water coral reefs in the north-east Atlantic.

He said: “Trawlers are looking for fish at lower and lower depths, and dragging up chunks of ancient coral the size of cars. About 40 per cent of the coral that we surveyed had been smashed up.

“We urgently need improved management of offshore areas worldwide both to protect ancient deep-water habitats and the fish that they support.

“I’m proposing that a more effective, cheaper way to monitor the activities of the high sea fleets is with satellite tracking.

“With this technology it would be easy to have an alarm on the boats that would sound when they approached deep-water coral areas where they would not be allowed to fish. If they continued, they could then be prosecuted.”

Source Telegraph (UK)