Greenpeace’s ship, the Rainbow Warrior has left Auckland for international waters around New Zealand to highlight the destructive impacts of bottom trawling. The tour follows up on an expedition last year in which Greenpeace documented New Zealand and Belize bottom trawlers operating in the Tasman Sea. Dave Walsh, web editor onboard the Rainbow Warrior again this year, gave the following account of the 2004 expedition that followed the activities of seven ships as they trawled seamounts for target species of orange roughy.
“We watched them raising tonnes of fish, corals – and even rocks from the ocean floor! Dozens of species of ‘unwanted’ deep sea life, snapped from habitat 1000km below us, were turfed over the side of the bottom trawlers, internal organs blown apart from the violent change in pressure. Hundreds of albatross – a bird usually considered a loner, drifting at the mercy of the winds – squabbled over the dead or dying fish.” Among the huge amounts of bottom dwelling marine life including fish, starfish, squid, sea urchins and ghost sharks that were hauled up and discarded, was a delicate branch of endangered black coral, a CITES listed species for over 20 years that is also protected in adjacent New Zealand waters. “Corals are the foundation of unique deep-sea communities and their destruction affects everything else living in or near them on the sea floor,” said Kat Bolstad, marine biologist onboard for the expedition. Speaking at a press conference on board the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour to launch the current expedition, Greenpeace Oceans campaigner, Carmen Gravatt said “Bottom trawling is the most destructive fishing practice in the world. The deep sea is the largest pool of undiscovered life on Earth. Bottom trawling these unknown worlds is like blowing up Mars before we get there.” Greenpeace also led expeditions to the North Atlantic in October-November 2004, documenting further deep sea destruction by three EU bottom trawlers in the North East Atlantic. More recently, in collaboration with the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), Greenpeace concluded the exploration of a little-known coral reef complex off the west of Scotland. Using remotely operated vehicles (small, unmanned submarines), scientists studied and documented the reef, its cold water corals (lophelia pertusa) and the numerous species it is thought to host. Previous surveys of the reef conducted by SAMS found that parts of the lophelia coral formation are 3,800 years old and the base may be over 10,000 years old. The research will help the international marine science community to further its understanding of the way cold water corals live and develop and their significance to the marine environment. The tragedy is that so many similar sites are being destroyed by bottom trawling before scientists even have a chance to discover what is there. “Each day bottom trawling continues, more deep sea life gets wiped out and the situation becomes more critical,” said Gravatt. “A moratorium on bottom trawling in international waters is urgently needed to protect life in the deep sea and New Zealand and Australian Governments should be joining other states in leading the global push for a moratorium at the UN.”