Greenpeace discovers new species in threatened Bering Sea

Feature story - 28 April, 2008
Our research voyage to the Bering Sea has led to the discovery of a species of sponge new to science. Using state-of-the-art manned submarines to explore the world's deepest underwater canyons the new sponge was collected in samples of never before seen life from the Bering Sea floor.

New species of sponge (Aaptos kanuux) discovered during Greenpeace Bering Sea Expedition in the summer of 2007.

The sponge from Pribilof Canyon in the Bering Sea is called will be named Aaptos kanuux. "We named this sponge 'kanuux,' after the Unungan word for "heart," explained George Pletnikoff, Greenpeace USA's Alaska Office Oceans Campaigner and a native of the Unungan communities on the Pribilof Islands. "These canyons are the heart of the Bering Sea, pumping out the nutrients that are the lifeblood of the entire ecosystem. As long as these canyons are at risk, so too will be the communities that have depended on these waters for thousands of years."

The underwater canyons where the sponge was discovered are unique habitats about which very little is known. However the same area is threatened by destructive industrial fishing methods like bottom trawling.

The announcement of the discovery comes on the same day that the UN meets in New York to discuss the protection of the high seas. "We know so little about the seas around us and far less about the open oceans. This amazing discovery underscores the need for the UN to establish a global network of marine reserves and to stop the current free-for-all whereby habitats and species are being destroyed before scientists have even had a chance to give them names," said Richard Page, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace International, attending the meeting.

The Greenpeace vessel Esperanza spent eight weeks in the Bering Sea in the summer of 2007. During some of the first-ever in situ surveys in Zhemchug and Pribilof canyons, scientists used submersibles to reveal how massive bottom trawl nets are destroying unique areas of corals and sponges.

"This discovery highlights how unique these canyons are and how little is known about the deep sea," added said John Hocevar, senior oceans specialist with Greenpeace USA. "Half of the 14 coral species and two-thirds of the 20 species of sponge we documented were previously unrecorded in the Bering Sea. Setting aside these areas as marine reserves would reap benefits for fishing communities as well as the environment."

The Bering Sea is just one area of the world's oceans that we know very little about. But overfishing threatens almost all every part of the oceans. We are campaigning for the creation of a network of marine reserves, protecting 40 percent of the world's oceans, as the long term solution to overfishing and the recovery of our overexploited oceans. That's the only way to protect everything from unknown sponges to the great whales.

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