International Conference on Biodiversity, Science and Governance Ends with Strong Call for Deep Sea Protection

Date: January 28, 2005

– Paris. The International Conference on Biodiversity, Science and Governance in Paris will close today with a strong call on the international community to meet its goal of halting the decline in global biodiversity by 2010. Critical among the areas of the planet high in biodiversity and under threat are the often-neglected deep oceans.

Matthew Gianni of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition said, “President Chirac opened the conference with a robust challenge to protect deep-sea biodiversity, ensuring that this fragile wilderness does not remain out of sight and out of mind. But it will take real leadership to break the political deadlock which surrounds this issue, particularly within the European Union.” Scientists believe that the deep seas support millions of species, the majority as yet undiscovered, constituting a global reservoir of biodiversity comparable to tropical rainforests. However, many deep-sea areas are under real and immediate threat from the destructive fishing practice known as bottom trawling. Bottom trawl vessels drag multi-ton fishing gear across the ocean bottom, pulverizing deep-water coral reefs and ‘seamount’ ecosystems in search of exotic species such as grenadiers and orange roughy. A recent report by UNEP identified bottom trawl fishing as the most serious threat to deep-sea corals. Over 1000 scientists signed a petition in 2004 calling on the UN General Assembly to declare a moratorium on high seas bottom trawl fishing. Last year, Costa Rica led an effort to declare a UN General Assembly moratorium but was successfully blocked by several countries, including the European Union under pressure from Spain. Spain, which has the largest deep-water trawl fleet fishing in international waters, again led the EU to significantly weaken a proposal by Norway to set several areas of deep-water biodiversity off limits to bottom trawl fishing at the November 2004 meeting of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission. Matthew Gianni said, “We hope that the commitment which President Chirac made at the start of this conference signals an important breakthrough in the deadlock within the European Union, but we will need to see Germany, the UK and others stand alongside France if Spain is to be prevented from dictating EU opposition to the protection of deep-sea biodiversity in international waters. Scientists and politicians from around the world have repeatedly emphasized throughout this week the need to take urgent action. The European Union has committed to halting the decline in biodiversity by 2010 as well as to take immediate steps to halt the further destruction of deep-water corals and it is time to translate these commitments into concrete action.”

Notes: In his opening remarks, President Chirac committed to “safeguard parts of the deep marine environment that are particularly rich in biodiversity” adding that, “France will advocate the creation of a network of protected areas in international waters…I hope that the relevant regional fishing organisations will resolutely follow suit.” In June 2003, the Ministerial level meeting of the Oslo and Paris Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic adopted the Bremen Statement, which in paragraph 12 states: “We are particularly concerned about the status of vulnerable cold-water coral reefs, many of which are threatened with destruction. Bearing in mind the ecological importance of these reefs and the practical irreversibility of their damage, we shall take immediate measures to protect coral reefs from further damage due to use of active fishing gear on the reefs.” UNEP Report: Cold Water Corals – Out of Sight, No Longer Out of Mind (UNEP June 2004), download pdf. Scientists’ Statement on Protecting the World’s Deep-sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems, signed by 1,136 scientists from 69 countries in February, 2004. English / Spanish. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition is an alliance of over 40 international organisations, representing millions of people in countries around the world. It is calling for a UN General Assembly moratorium on high seas bottom trawling until legally binding and effective regimes are in place to protect deep-sea biodiversity on the high seas.

For further information contact: Matthew Gianni is attending the Conference and can be contacted on ++ 31 628 401162; or Mirella von Lindenfels on ++ 44 20 8882 5041

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