Sebastián Losada speaking at a press conference in 2006.
It’s a little known fact that there are more maps of the moon than of the deep sea. The world’s oceans truly are one of the last frontiers. Many are unaware that vast mountain ranges, deep canyons and trenches line our ocean floor. The magic and wonder of what lies beneath our oceans is what inspired me to work to protect them for future generations- and why I’m in New York this week at the United Nations. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you about what’s happening at the UN and why it’s important.
Sixty two percent of our Planet is covered by more than one kilometer of water and as many as 10 million species may inhabit these deep seas. But even these unexplored and unreachable deep sea areas are threatened by fishing. Our oceans provide us with food, with jobs- even with the oxygen we breather- and in return we are quite literally fishing them to death. The fishing industry has started to reach deeper areas of our oceans as newer and larger fishing boats began dragging heavy chains and gear along the ocean floor.
Mining the last frontier
Fishing is among the many threats to the fragile deep ocean environment. Deep sea fishing has been many times described as deep sea mining, rather than fishing: many species live for a long time, reproduce slowly and can't survive aggressive fishing. Most of these deep sea catches are made up of species which have no commercial value, and may be vulnerable and threatened. As with mining, once one ocean area is wiped out, trawlers often move to another in search of yet-to-be-exploited deep sea stocks, leaving a trail of destruction throughout these unexplored areas.
The impacts on deep sea habitats are equally severe. Deep water corals or sponges, which are very fragile and may take hundreds of years to grow can be broken down to pieces in a few seconds by deep sea fishing.
Greenpeace taking action to halt destructive bottom trawling in 2005.
Back in 2006, 1,452 marine scientists from 69 countries signed a statement expressing profound concern that human activities, particularly bottom trawling, are causing unprecedented damage to the deep-seas. According to a group of scientists who met earlier this year in Lisbon to discuss deep sea protection, only 0.0001 percent of the deep-seafloor has been biologically explored. A recent scientific study concludes that the deep seas are in trouble, and are only likely to get worse.
Hang on: your fish belongs to all of us!
As fishing vessels move away from the coast into deeper areas, it so happens that we enter the high seas: beyond 200 nautical miles off the shore, resources don't belong to a single country, but to mankind as a whole. In short, a few countries fishing deep sea species on the high seas (1) are destroying what rightly belongs to all of us. That is why the United Nations got more involved and that’s why I’m here at the UN today.
Over the last decade, Greenpeace and other organizations, formed the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, in order to expose the destruction of the deep. Our ships have witnessed it and we have taken our evidence to the UN General Assembly in an effort to end this ocean destruction and protect our oceans.
As a result, in 2006 the international community came close to agreeing to the most reasonable measure: a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling until our oceans had recovered and would be able to sustain this intense fishing method. But consensus was broken by the opposition of a few fishing nations which offered in turn to agree on a series of actions to ensure that their deep sea fisheries would be sustainable from 2009 onward. You probably won't be surprised to learn that five years later they haven't succeeded.
2011 is a crucial year as the UN General Assembly will be reviewing, from September to November, what actions fishing countries have taken to protect the deep seas. Details of their failure to protect them can be found here or summarized in this Greenpeace briefing.
Some of the deep sea life may not be cute, but worth saving!
A decade of debates and negotiations has come and gone, and the high seas continue to be recklessly trawled. How much of these deep ocean areas have been destroyed since 2006? Some of the deep sea inhabitants certainly are not pretty. But as the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition campaign put it: I may not be cute or cuddly, but I am worth saving!
Please take a few minutes to send a distress call to the UN Secretary-General with a clear simple message: Deep sea life must be protected. High seas fishing nations must follow all the UN General Assembly resolutions or stop deep sea fishing immediately.
We’ll keep you posted on what happens here in New York- where we will be pressing your leaders to do the right thing and restore our oceans to health.
Sebastian Losada is a Senior Policy Advisor with Greenpeace International, focused on oceans issues.