In a month where we all need a bit of optimism, here’s a quick round up of some good stuff that’s happening for the sea.
Air China refuses to carry shark fin cargo
Air China has taken a bold step and banned cargoes of shark fins on its services which is a huge step forward in combatting the shark fin trade that is decimating shark populations and driving some species to endangered status. As much of the fin cargo is transported by sea, this decision will not single-handedly curb the shark fin trade, but it’s such great news because this decision by a big company to put ethics and environment over business shows a change in China’s attitude to the health of the oceans.
Super fragile deep-sea ecosystems defended from fishing gear
A new conservation measure has been approved by the European Parliament this month that will protect deep sea ecosystems in the North-East Atlantic from trawling. Deep-sea ecosystems are often overlooked and they are so fragile that any damage caused by fishing gear can take hundreds of years to recover. So banning trawling in these very deep areas (deeper than 800m) that are delicate and largely unknown is a positive for the North-East Atlantic marine environment. Deep-sea species like monkfish, orange roughy and ling will be protected from longlines, gillnets and bottom trawlers. These species are particularly at risk because they are slow growing, so continual fishing pressure doesn’t give stocks a chance to recover before the next catch. The UK’s largest fishing association is onside with these developments too, saying they approve and are pleased to be able to maintain deep-sea biodiversity through these new regulations.
Protection for Mid-Atlantic deep-sea canyon creatures
Deep-sea corals in the US waters of the Mid-Atlantic are now safe from damage by trawling. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is the first of eight of these US Councils to use the power that they have to be able to cordon off areas of the deep sea to damaging fishing gear. A new zone has just been designated, called the Frank R. Lautenberg Deep-Sea Coral Protection Area and it’s 40,000 square miles of safe space for deep sea corals. It includes lots of undersea canyons, particularly deep and narrow sections of seafloor that harbour very fragile and rare species. The regulations and boundaries of this new zone were carefully considered by the stakeholders, and big discussions were held regarding the boundaries of the zone. This is great news as it shows that legislative powers held by Fishery Management Councils are being put to good use, and now it’s time for the others to take steps to protect the deep-sea in their areas too.
Where the whale sharks are…
An exciting drone project has been developed to help fill in gaps in our knowledge about whale shark movements. Whale sharks are particularly difficult to track because they dive very deep and migrate vast distances. So the development of the ‘Wave Glider’, a wave-powered drone that listens for signals from whale sharks that are tagged with an acoustic tag and then communicates information about their location back to land, is great news. The study found whale sharks in places where they weren’t expected to be at that time of year, which shows that this tool will be able to teach us a lot about their movements. These drones can power themselves using solar power and can be left alone to do their thing for a year, making them a really important tool. They can gather more location data in real-time than a team of research vessel-based scientists, and the acoustic trackers can track the whale sharks when they dive deep, which is useful because satellite signals sometimes drop out when the animal dives below a certain depth. So hopefully in the coming years we’ll know more about what whale sharks do all year and where they go, and this will help us to protect them. If we know their breeding grounds and places where they regularly visit, then we can focus the designation of Marine Protected Areas on this places. More information = better planning = more effective protection = happier sharks.