Marine reserves - just a stone's throw away

Feature story - August 13, 2009
This week we have created a granite shield against bottom trawling in a fragile and ecologically important marine area in Sweden. Our activists sailed into Swedish waters and have so far placed 140 granite rocks (each weighing between 0.5 and 3 tonnes) in the Lilla Middelgrund in the Kattegat. Our intention is to move to nearby Fladen and the same thing there.

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” -- Ryunosuke Satoro

These regions, boasting unique and rich marine life, have beenprotected on paper by the EU and the Swedish government since 2003 (Natura 2000) yet lack any mechanisms to actually stop fishing and other damaging activities.

Watch the video on BBC news

Using a specially equipped barge, our team is placing anumber of large boulders on the seafloor to act as obstacles stopping fishermen from ploughing up the rare habitats of maerl bedsand bubble reefs. Bubble reefs (underwater structures created by gasseepage) are amazing habitats of great scientific interest that haveonly recently been discovered in Sweden. But despite the existence ofthese vulnerable habitats bottom trawling, one of most destructiveforms of fishing, is common throughout the area.

Real protection needed

Bottom trawlers drag a net across theseabed, indiscriminately catchingeverything in its path. This decimates stocks of popular fish, such assole and plaice, and results in a large amount of unwanted bycatch -which is thrown back into the sea either dead or dying. It alsodestroys any living structures that have grown on the sea bed - oftenacting as a sanctuary for an abundance of other life forms. Without apermanent ban on fishing in this area - there is no hope for thepreservation of a healthy ecosystem.

ThroughoutEurope, marine protection exists only on paper. But our seas cannotwait any longer, their survival is at stake and politicians need totake action and implement laws that will protect the life of the seastoday and for the future. However, under the EU Common Fisheries Policy(CFP) countries do not have the powers to regulate or prohibitfisheries. EU fisheries law states that such decisions have to be takenat an EU-level. This Catch-22 situation needs to addressed immediately.

In 2008, we placed 320 boulders in Germany's Sylt Outer Reef, another"protected" site, which was being destroyed by bottom trawling. In doingso, trawlers have been prevented from fishing on the reef and theboulders have already being colonised by a wealth of marine life.

For a long-term solution, we are calling on the Swedish EU-presidencyto reform the CFP, enabling responsible authorities in member states totake necessary conservation measures in all types of marine protectedarea.

Fisherman's friends

Besides showing up with some large stones- our team in Sweden has planned and prepared this work for months. Animportant step was the preparation of an environmental impactassessment to ensure that the activity would not be damaging to theenvironment. We also invited anyone interested - fishermen, politicians and all - to comment on our plans.The scientific impact assessment concluded that the strategic placementof stones would not negatively impact the marine environment, and theresponsible authority shared this view and informed us that we wouldnot need a permit. Fishermen from nearby Varberg also recognised theimportance of our proposal. As one fisherman said: "We shall and wemust protect the shallow banks and the refuges that exist there. Thenperhaps we can even get the wolffish back."

In order to defend our oceans from the effects ofover-fishing around the world, we are campaigning for a global networkof large fully protected marine reserves covering 40 percent of ouroceans, including the North and Baltic seas. Supported by scientists -these reserves will restore the health of fish stocks, and protectocean life from habitat destruction and collapse. Marine reserves alsomake our oceans more resilient to the ravages of climate change.

Take Action

Join the call now for a global network of marine reserves - protecting 40 percent of the world's oceans.