Saving Norway’s cold water corals

by Michelle Frey

April 14, 2009

Here is a post from Frida, one of Greenpeace International’s oceans campaigners. She is currently on the Rainbow Warrior, off the coast of Norway.

Did you know that there are thousands of beautiful and diverse coral reefs in the northern seas, outside of Scotland, Norway and the Bering Sea? Most people are not aware that the cold and dark waters up here are teaming but that’s because they haven’t had the chance to look close enough. I am on the Rainbow Warrior to do just that. Specifically what we are looking for is a lovely named creature called Lophelia pertusa. It is this cold water coral that dominates the coral areas of the Northern deep sea. It lives at depths between 200 and 1000 meters. We are now documenting the presence and status of a reef in an area called Breisundsdypet.

Our equipment for doing this consists of a deep sea drop cam connected to a winch.

As in most places the wonderful and diverse life is not thriving as much as it could do if we were not going about our business without thinking of the ecological consequences. It is estimated that 30-50% of the Lophelia reefs in Norwegian waters have been damaged or impacted by trawling and they are also threatened from other human activities such as oil drilling. The deep sea corals in other places face equally dismal situations. Lophelia corals grows very slowly and can live for a long time but the coral structures remain long after the coral polyps have died. Some of these structures have been here since the last ice age. That’s 8500 years, 1500 years before agriculture started in ancient Egypt, and it only takes a second for a bottom trawl to scrape them clean from the sea bed. It is sad that only three of the 18 lager coral reef areas Norwegian waters have some form of protection and even the ones that are designated as marine protected areas are not safe from human impacts.

Our tour started a few days a go in Bergen, after two days of talking to people about corals, holding a press conference and showing off our gallant ship we are now underway. We hope that this trip can raise awareness about the need for protecting our wonderful and unique cold water habitats.




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