Saving our seas: the final frontier

Feature story - 28 May, 2004
There were two Rainbow Warriors in Matauri Bay, New Zealand, yesterday - one above and one below the water. The crew - safely stationed on the Warrior above the water - had the surreal experience of paying their respects to their ship's namesake before setting off on a mission to end the destructive practice of bottom trawling.

The Rainbow Warrior departing from Waitamata harbour in Auckland for its research expedition looking at deep sea fishing and the effects on the fisheries and sea bed.

In case you've lived in cave or are a bit too young to remember, the original Rainbow Warrior was bombed by the French government in July 1985 during our campaign against nuclear testing in the South Pacific. However she lives on beneath the waves as an artificial reef and home to diverse marine life. So visiting the original Warrior was a fitting start to a journey intended to protect that life from unscrupulous fishing.

The crew of the second Rainbow Warrior laid a wreath - of both native and non-native flowers to represent their multicultural crew - above the wreck to remember the past as they set out for the mission ahead.

Until recently, many believed that there was little life in the dark, distant waters of the deep sea. But new technologies have turned that belief on its head, and animations such as "Finding Nemo" and "Spongebob Squarepants" have brought new attention to the oceans. Scientists and the fishing industry both now know that there is an abundance of life in the deep sea, and that it is especially concentrated around certain underwater features, in particular, seamounts - underwater mountains over 1000 metres high.

But in its relentless pursuit of fish for our dinner tables, the fishing industry doesn't think deep sea life is worth saving. Inexplicably they seem to find it quite logical to drag huge nets through ancient underwater forests of coral and the unexplored worlds of unknown creatures.

To make the whole situation even more alarming, most bottom trawling occurs on the high seas. (While that conjures up images of swashbuckling pirates, the high seas are actually ocean areas beyond the 200 mile economic exclusive zone.) In the high seas most bottom trawling is either unregulated or not covered by a regional fisheries management organisation. If they're allowed to carry on unregulated, we won't have much life in the deep sea before long. And that's why we're calling for an immediate end to it.

There is so much to be discovered about this last frontier. Thousands of deep sea species are still being discovered every year. The life of the deep sea could provide new medicines, answer questions about the origins of life on our planet, and provide clues to the possibility of life on other worlds.

"We spend the night at anchor, here in Matauri Bay. It's kind of strange to think of two Rainbow Warriors in the same place... one bobbing about on the surface, full of humans, and another, 20 metres or so below, inhabited by fish." - Dave Walsh, web editor on board the Rainbow Warrior

You can follow the crew of the Rainbow Warrior as they discover more about what is happening to our deep sea life.

Find out more about saving deep sea life.