Still waters? 'Clear-cutting' robs the deep-sea of ancient treasures

BOSTON, MASS. - Deep beneath the Earth's oceans, "Ancient groves of invertebrates are being clear-cut by trawling just as quickly and surely as loggers felled groves of giant redwoods," Callum M. Roberts reported today during the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting.

Slow-growing fish-including 200-year-old Sebastes rockfish and orange roughy known to live 150 years-need rapid protection from deep-sea trawling, said Roberts, a scientist at the University of York in the United Kingdom. "There is probably no such thing as an economically viable deep-water fishery that is sustainable," Roberts concluded, calling for marine reserves to safeguard species from deep-sea fishing.

In the 15 February issue of the AAAS journal, Science, Roberts pinpoints 18 critical places world-wide where conservation resources would likely do the most good. Topping the list of 18 are 10 conservation "hotspots"-from the Philippines and the Gulf of Guinea to the Sunda and Mascarene Islands, and Eastern South Africa. The 10 "red zones" cover only a small fraction of the world's oceans (0.028 percent), or about one-third of all coral reefs (35.2 percent). Yet, they may shelter more than two-thirds of all vulnerable, range-restricted marine creatures. Marine species in these areas are at much greater risk of extinction than previously thought, Roberts cautioned.

At the AAAS meeting today, Roberts raised the stakes one step further, unveiling a study of deep-sea fishing impacts, being published by Trends in Ecology and Evolution. That work suggests that the reach of fishing vessels now extends deep into the sea in our hunt for seafood: Deep-sea fishing is rapidly depleting populations of the deep, where the "glacial pace of life" and extreme longevity make fish particularly susceptible to depletion and possible extinction.

"We could be losing [deep-sea] species far more quickly than we can describe them," Roberts warned.


Contact: Monica Amarelo
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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