Grand Canyons of the Pacific
by John Hocevar
January 26, 2008
I was in Anchorage last week for the Alaska Marine Science Symposium, presenting some of the findings from our 2007 Bering Sea Canyons Expedition. I was presenting a poster, which is a common way to feature preliminary findings at scientific conferences, showcasing new coral data. Bob Stone, the NOAA ecologist who was on board the Esperanza with us, was the other author.
I like poster presentations because you get a chance to interact with a large number of people, as opposed to oral presentations, where aside from a few questions it’s largely a one-way lecture. This way, I got to see people do a double take when they saw the paired NOAA and Greenpeace logos on the poster. For those that read the conclusion, they saw that we – that’s Greenpeace and NOAA – "recommend that canyon coral habitats be prioritized for protection and that additional research is undertaken to fully document the sensitive habitats in the region."
Our findings also included several coral species that were previously unrecorded in the Bering Sea, as well as others that had never been found so far north. Five corals were described as "common" or "abundant in one or both of the canyons we visited. In all, we found at least fourteen species.
Michelle Ridgway teamed up with legendary geologist David Scholl for a keynote presentation linking the physical structure of the canyons with the ecology of these highly productive features. Of the more than 600 scientists, policy makers, and industry lobbyists who attended the Symposium, I think it’s safe to say that nearly all of them have a better understanding of the importance of the canyons than they did a week ago.
Meanwhile, the canyons will continue to face heavy fishing pressure until policy makers act to protect these vulnerable habitats. How much more damage will be done in the meantime?