Baton of high seas protection passes to WCC as UN fails to take action

Date: November 21, 2004

– Bangkok, Thailand. A global coalition of conservation organizations today called on members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) attending the World Conservation Congress (WCC) to agree to a resolution that will help protect deep sea biodiversity on the high seas.

The coalition was joined in this call by Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Minister of Environment and Energy for Costa Rica. The resolution calls for protection of high seas biodiversity through, among other things the adoption of a UN moratorium on high seas bottom trawl fishing. High seas bottom trawl fishing has had a devastating impact on deep sea coral ecosystems, some of which are up to 10,000 years old, putting at risk many thousands of species unique to their ecosystems. Conservationists believe bottom trawling may be the marine environment equal of clear cutting tropical rain forests. “A long history of non-existent and ineffective management of ocean resources is having economic, social and environmental impacts on us all,” said Minister Rodriguez, speaking at the WCC. “As a world community we have a unique opportunity to responsibly manage the biodiversity rich last frontier of the deep sea. Costa Rica is calling for a UN moratorium on deep sea trawling in international waters until we can learn to sustainably manage deep sea resources. To manage this realm, we must discover the species and the roles they play and the benefits they bring for the humankind and maintenance of ocean biodiversity.” This issue dominated recently concluded UN General Assembly negotiations on oceans and fisheries. Despite calls for urgent action by environmental and conservation organizations, scientists, progressive states, fishing interests and others, the final resolutions did not go far enough to stop the plunder. Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) and IUCN, who is attending the WCC said: “Immediate action needs to be taken to protect the irreplaceable habitats of the deep oceans from bottom trawling.

The UNGA failed to take it. It now falls to IUCN to set the lead and demonstrate what can be achieved if the collective good is imposed over commercial interest.” The DSCC has repeatedly called for the UN General Assembly to adopt a moratorium on bottom trawl fishing on the high seas. Obstacles include strong opposition by Iceland and the European Union led by Spain. Despite the failure of the General Assembly to do so this year, however, the DSCC says that there is cause for optimism in the coming year. Matthew Gianni of the DSCC said: “The tide is definitely turning. There is increasing concern within the international community over the destruction of deep sea biodiversity by fleets from a small number of countries. Costa Rica, Norway, Palau and Chile fought hard for strong UN General Assembly action this year. Costa Rica is sponsoring the moratorium resolution at the WCC.” The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition is an alliance of nearly 30 international organizations, representing millions of people in countries around the world. It is calling for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.

For further information please contact: John Bennett at +1 917 403 9849 or Matthew Gianni at +31 62 840 1162. A DSCC press conference will be held at the WCC in the Congress Press Centre on November 21st at 15:00 hrs. Speakers include Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Minister of Environment and Energy for Costa Rica, Lisa Speer and Matt Gianni.