Rainbow Warrior sets out to save deep sea life

Feature story - June 1, 2005
A year since its first expedition in defence of deep sea life, the Rainbow Warrior has left Auckland to once again demonstrate the devastation caused by bottom trawling. Last year we exposed the New Zealand and Belize-flagged bottom trawlers in the Tasman Sea ... will this year bring a repeat performance?

The Rainbow Warrior sets out from Auckland to defend deep sea life.

Dave Walsh, web editor on board the Rainbow Warrior again this year,gave the following account of the 2004 expedition that followed theactivities of seven ships as they trawled seamounts for target speciesof orange roughy.

"We watched them raising tonnes of fish, corals - and even rocks fromthe ocean floor! Dozens of species of 'unwanted' deep sea life, snappedfrom habitat 1000km below us, were turfed over the side of the bottomtrawlers, internal organs blown apart from the violent change inpressure. Hundreds of albatross - a bird usually considered a loner,drifting at the mercy of the winds - squabbled over the dead or dyingfish."

Among the huge amounts of bottom dwelling marine life including fish,sea stars, squid, sea urchins and ghost sharks that were hauled up anddiscarded, was a delicate branch of endangered black coral, a specieslisted on the UN Convention on International Trade in EndangeredSpecies (CITES) for over 20 years.  Black coral is also protectedin adjacent New Zealand waters. Corals are the foundation of uniquedeep-sea communities and their destruction affects everything elseliving in or near them on the sea floor.

Speaking at a press conference on board the Rainbow Warrior in Aucklandharbour to launch the current expedition, Oceans campaigner CarmenGravatt said "Bottom trawling is the most destructive fishing practicein the world. The deep sea is the largest pool of undiscovered life onEarth. Bottom trawling these unknown worlds is like blowing up Marsbefore we get there."

Recently, in collaboration with the Scottish Association for MarineScience (SAMS), we also concluded the exploration of a little-knowncoral reef complex off the west of Scotland. Using remotely operatedvehicles (small, unmanned submarines), scientists studied anddocumented the reef, its cold water corals (lophelia pertusa) and thenumerous species it is thought to host. Previous surveys of the reefconducted by SAMS found that parts of the lophelia coral formation are3,800 years old and the base may be over 10,000 years old.

Next week, our political advisor Karen Sack will speak at a UN meetingon Oceans.  Will the Rainbow Warrior once again unearth crucialevidence so the UN can see with their own eyes that a moratorium isneeded?  

"Each day bottom trawling continues, more deep sea life gets wiped outand the situation becomes more critical," said Gravatt. "A moratoriumon bottom trawling in international waters is urgently needed toprotect life in the deep sea." 

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