30 June 2014
Author: Helen Swingler
A pioneering experiment being conducted in the Atlantic Ocean 100 nautical miles off the west coast of South Africa will tell marine researchers from the University of Cape Town (UCT) how long the seabed and its ecosystem takes to recover after hake trawling operations.
The Benthic Trawl Experiment is a joint research project between UCT, the South African Deep Sea Trawl Industry Association, the South African Environmental Observation Network (Saeon), and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. It's the first in a series of experimental surveys of the impact of bottom trawling on the benthic communities - organisms that live in or on the seafloor - of the outer shelf of South Africa's west coast, says Associate Professor Colin Attwood, the chief scientist on the project. These will be conducted annually, though Attwood says it will take longer than the allotted four years for previously trawled lanes to bounce back.
Saeon's Lara Atkinson, who is managing the project, says: "We have been planning for a long time to get this experiment under way, and we're very excited about this opportunity to be able to monitor for any changes in the benthic communities in the areas where trawling has stopped."