Dr Iris Menn is a marine biologist and Greenpeace oceans campaigner onboard the Esperanza
Today we sent the drop-camera for her last dive along a so-called 'transect' – which is basically a distance from A to B. She dived down to 300 to 400 metres and landed in 'sponge town' – we haven't seen so many or such big sponges before. Every dive has surprises, and so did the last one as well: we saw skates and many halibut. It was a great last dive and I feel a bit of melancholy that it is over for now.
Our mapping is now also finished. We have covered two areas north of Svalbard, each of approximately 1400 square kilometers. In each area we sent the drop-camera along 12 transects, each approximately 2.8 kilometers in length. We spread these transects across the area, to make sure it is covered geographically, and across different depth contour lines as well. The latter is important, because you will find different habitats and communities at different depth.
Working with the 'Drop Cam' on the deck of the Esperanza.
From all this work, we’ve generated about 30 hours of video material and 1000 images – a lot of data to work with. We will start with a compilation of an overall species and habitat list – identifying species are precisely as we can. Additionally, we will try to measure the diversity - which is always linked to the area (in square meters) that we are looking at, by analysing the 30 hours of videotape on a quantitative basis. This means a few long evenings for me, sitting at a monitor and going through all the tapes.
Once this is done, we will discuss our results in comparison with published scientific literature. Especially the discussion and a prediction of effects of bottom trawling on this ecosystem will be very exciting. For all analysis we will work together with scientists.
You often might hear Greenpeace demanding observance of the 'precautionary principle', which is a legally binding principle for governments, including those of the European Union (EU). The precautionary principle means that humans not have enough information about an environment, then we should not proceed with exploiting any aspect of it. For fisheries this means, at least from Greenpeace perspective, that there should not be any fishing in areas, where we don't have any knowledge of the ocean ecosystem.
Sadly, the precautionary principle is rarely implemented in fisheries, or any other exploration of the oceans. One example is the “high seas” – the area of the oceans beyond the 200 nautical mile limit of each country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, normally outside national jurisdiction, such as the middle of the Atlantic.
The Russian flagged trawler Martha Arendsee spotted trawling in the Arctic Ocean waters at a position of 79o24.4' N 008o24.9' E. It's registered numbers is M0369.
Huge areas of the high seas are still unknown to scientists, but trawlers are still allowed to drag their gear along the bottom. Another perfect example, in a negative sense, is the EU Common Fishing Policy: 88% of the fish stocks under its management regime are overfished. The EU is not applying the precautionary principle at all; in fact, according to a new publication by Froese und Proelß (2010) the EU is actually breaking both UN and its own EU law in this regard.
I have taken part in a lot of political negotiations on fisheries, and very often the governments with a large fishing fleet are playing the 'evidence card': “Give us the evidence that there is a sensitive ecosystem down in the deep and then we will consider going somewhere else”, they say. This is, however, a completely misguided and possibly disingenuous principle, which becomes quite clear if you compare it with the situation on land.
On land, for every new development, e.g. the building of a highway, you need to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA), in which the impact on the ecosystem is evaluated. Based on that additional measures are set to minimize the impact. Nothing similar exists for fisheries in the oceans. The fishing industry is still allowed to fish without having to show evidence that its fishing methods are sustainable, or do not have an impact on the ecosystem.
One reason why the precautionary principle has not been implemented for fisheries in the oceans is that nobody sees what we are destroying, including those causing the destruction, because it is far below the water’s surface. On land the destruction is immediately visible to everybody.
All of this shows how the importance our work here, over the last few weeks. We have now a clear picture what is down here in the deep of the Arctic Ocean north of Svalbard. It is a sensitive and diverse ecosystem. We are able to pull the 'evidence card' and show our evidence. Now the fishing industry needs to show that bottom trawling is not destructive for this ecosystem. Until they have provided this proof, the Norwegian government needs to set a moratorium on bottom trawling in this area.
A colony of Kittiwakes on cliffs near to Ny-Alesund, their proximity to the international Arctic research settlement makes study of them easier over time.
In the coming days we will use the ROV (remotely-operated vehicle) for getting further close ups of some of the species we have seen, to help us with species identification and to collect further high quality video footage to show the world the beautiful life that dwells in the deep of the Arctic Ocean.
If you would like to see for yourself what we’ve been doing in the deep sea, check out the video and photographs.
Read more about the Arctic Under Pressure Expedition here
All photos: © Nick Cobbing / Greenpeace