1,136 scientists call for protection of deep-sea corals

SEATTLE--At a AAAS press briefing on Sunday at 1:00 PM, marine scientists will release a consensus statement from over a thousand of the world's foremost biologists, calling for governments and the United Nations to protect imperiled deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems. The statement will be released concurrently at the 7th Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; in Santiago, Chile; and in Madrid, Spain. Speakers at the AAAS briefing in Seattle will be Drs. Elliott Norse, Martin Willison, Daniel Pauly and Lance Morgan.

This historic proclamation--signed by 1,136 scientists from 69 countries, more than any other concerning a specific marine environmental issue--signifies unprecedented concern by experts in marine sciences and conservation biology. Scientists have recently discovered forests of gorgonian corals and reefs of stony corals at scattered locations in cold and deep ocean waters around the world. Some corals resemble "trees" up to 10 meters tall; others form dense thickets. Hundreds or thousands of species live in these cold-water coral forests and reefs, leading scientists to call them the "rainforests of the deep." But even before scientists can find them, deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems are being destroyed by commercial fishing, especially bottom trawling.

Trawls are huge nets armed with steel weights or heavy rollers. Deep-sea fishing vessels drag them across the seafloor to catch species such as shrimp, cod, orange roughy, armorhead, grenadier and Chilean seabass. Trawls smash corals and sponges and rip them from the seafloor.

"It's ironic that billions are being spent searching for water that might once have supported life on Mars while we're destroying the dazzling diversity of life in waters here on Earth," said Dr. Elliott A. Norse, President of Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Redmond WA. "About 98 percent of the oceans' species live in, on or ju

Contact: Fan Tsao

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