Pollutants released by seafloor trawling affect marine life

6 December 2012

Source: Science for Environment Policy, European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service, edited by
SCU, The University of the West of England, Bristol.

Bottom trawling is a globally important economic activity that affects around 15 million km2 of the world’s seafloor every year. The trawling disturbs sediments on the seafloor, which absorb contaminants entering the marine environment. Following a trawl, pollutants can be re-released into the lower depths of the water. Most research in this area has been carried out in laboratories; this study of a Norwegian fjord is therefore significant in that it provides valuable insight into the effects of bottom trawling in a ‘real world’ setting.

The study was carried out in the south of Norway, in a fjord that has been polluted over the past 40 years with a range of chemicals from neighbouring industries. The effects of trawling were measured by placing ‘semi-permeable membrane devices’ (SPMDs) in the water on ropes close to the trawl sites for one month. These devices measure the amount of dissolved organic contaminants in the water.

To measure the amount of pollutants accumulated by marine organisms in the fjord, caged blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) were also placed on the ropes. The SPMDs and mussels were placed at different levels in the water to compare the effects of trawling: in bottom water (1.5 metres above the seabed) and in open water (19 metres above the seabed).
The results demonstrated that a single 1.8 kilometre trawl created a 3-5 million m3 cloud of sediment to a height of 15-18 metres above the seabed, which stretched over a 120-150 metre-wide range. Around nine tonnes of contaminated sediment was contained in the cloud. The total suspended matter in the plume reached around 70 times that of natural, background levels.

For more, go to: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/309na3rss.pdf