Marine reserves - just a stone's throw away

Feature story - August 14, 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 do 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 been protected 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 a number of large boulders on the seafloor to act as obstacles stopping fishermen from ploughing up the rare habitats of maerl beds and bubble reefs. Bubble reefs (underwater structures created by gasseepage) are amazing habitats of great scientific interest that have only recently been discovered in Sweden. But despite the existence of these vulnerable habitats, bottom trawling, one of most destructive forms of fishing, is common throughout the area.

Real protection needed

Bottom trawlers drag a net across the sea bed, indiscriminately catching everything 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 also destroys any living structures that have grown on the sea bed - often acting as a sanctuary for an abundance of other life forms. Without apermanent ban on fishing in this area - there is no hope for the preservation of a healthy ecosystem.

Throughout Europe, marine protection exists only on paper. But our seas cannot wait any longer, their survival is at stake and politicians need to take action and implement laws that will protect the life of the seas today and for the future. However, under the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) countries do not have the powers to regulate or prohibit fisheries. EU fisheries law states that such decisions have to be taken at an EU-level. This Catch-22 situation needs to be 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 doing so, trawlers have been prevented from fishing on the reef and the boulders have already being colonised by a wealth of marine life.

For a long-term solution, we are calling on the Swedish EU-presidency to reform the CFP, enabling responsible authorities in member states to take necessary conservation measures in all types of marine protected areas.

Fisherman's friends

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

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

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

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