SAVE OUR SEAS: stop the gold rush to the world's deepest oceans

Press release - 4 June, 2004
Thousands of deep sea species, from 150year old orange roughy to giant sea spiders and squid, are threatened by the new enemy of the seas, bottom trawlers.

Greenpeace climbers scale the top of the main towers of the cathedral La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family) and unfurl banners which read SAVE OUR SEAS.The action is timed for The Program of United Nations for the Environment in Barcelona, where discussion will take place for the future of the world's oceans.

Bottom trawling is a devastating fishing technique, which literallyploughs up the ocean floor, catching all marine life, not just targetfish, and shattering ancient corals in the wake of the nets. It leavesthe seabed almost devoid of life and incapable of recovery, after justone sweep.

As policy makers gear up for a crucial meeting on the marineenvironment at the UN in New York (1), the international environmentalgroup, Greenpeace, today called for an immediate moratorium on highseas bottom trawling. Over one thousand marine scientists have jointlymade a similar call (2).

At the same time, Greenpeace activists in Spain scaled the maintowers of the cathedral La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and unfurledbanners which read in both Catalan and English - Salvem els nostresOceans -SAVE OUR SEAS, to draw attention to the issue while the UNEnvironment Programme meets in Barcelona for World Environment Day todiscuss the future for the oceans.

The Greenpeace campaign to Save our Seas is also supported by theGreenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, which is currently sailing thewaters around New Zealand to highlight the destruction caused by bottomtrawling.

Bottom trawlers drag huge nets behind them that are lined with bobbinsand weights that scour the ocean floor. The nets are held open by twoheavy steel plates or trawl doors that drag along the ocean bottom ateither side. Each trawl door can weigh up to 10 tonnes, destroyingeverything in its path. This destruction not only kills off the fragilecold-water corals that have taken hundreds of years to grow and all thespecies depending on them, but can also change the topography of theseafloor so that these species cannot grow back again.

There are more maps of the moon than there are of the oceans, andthe deep seas are the last unknown frontier of our world. Untilrecently, many believed that there was little life in the deep, darkdistant waters of the deep sea, but new technologies have turned thatbelief on its head, showing instead that the deep sea is one of thegreat reservoirs of biodiversity on the planet. The race is now onagainst the bottom trawlers to make sure that we save this deep-sealife before it meets the same fate as so much other marine life -overexploited to the point of extinction.

"Everyone recognises that our oceans are in crisis. We can'tcontinue to exploit them in this way," said Carmen Gravatt, Greenpeaceoceans campaigner, speaking from the Rainbow Warrior. "The deep seasare the last great unknown spaces on earth. We're running out of time,we don't want another round of UN talking shops. We want realcommitments and real action to save our seas."

Like the biodiversity of the rainforests, the corals sponges andother unknown creatures of the deep sea are believed to be a potentialsource of medicines and bone graft materials. The deep seas may evenprovide key answers to questions about the origins of life on ourplanet.

"Unless decision-makers in New York takeurgent action to halt deep sea bottom trawling, a lack of understandingof what life there is thousands of metres down in the sea, and anover-commitment to short term gain by the fishing industry, will meanthat many species will be wiped out before they have even beenidentified." said Ms. Gravatt. "We must all join a worldwide mission tosave our seas, and the first step must be a global moratorium on HighSeas bottom trawling."

VVPR info: For deep sea and Greenpeace oceans campaign images please contact: Stills - John Novis, Greenpeace International Picture Editor, on + 31 (0) 653 81 91 21 Video – Maarten van Rouveroy, Greenpeace International Video Producer, on +31 (0) 6 4619 7322

Notes: 1. UN policy makers are meeting for the 'United Nations Open-Ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea' (UNICPOLOS) in New York from 7-11 June 2004, which is convened annually under the auspices of the UN Division of Oceans and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS) to discuss the most pressing global oceans policy issues as highlighted in the UNGA Resolution on Oceans and the Law of the Sea and at the request of the Secretary General. This year, the topic is: "new and sustainable uses of the oceans, including the conservation and management of the biological diversity of the seabed in areas beyond national jurisdiction; as well as issues discussed at previous meetings." 2. At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting on February 15, the Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI) released a consensus statement from over a thousand of the world's foremost biologists, calling for governments and the United Nations to protect imperilled deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems. This historic proclamation - signed by 1,136 scientists from 69 countries - signifies unprecedented concern by experts in marine sciences and conservation biology. You can download the statement from 3. Greenpeace launched its’ campaign to save deep sea life from Rainbow Warrior in Auckland on 26th May 2004. On Monday 31st May 2004, a group of New Zealand activists protested at the headquarters of the Orange Roughy Management Company, the umbrella organisation for orange roughy fishermen in New Zealand, in Nelson - the main fishing port in New Zealand, and the biggest fishing port in Australasia.