Living Oceans Society launches the Finding Coral Expedition to search for deep sea corals on Canada’s Pacific Coast
VANCOUVER – A two week scientific expedition led by Living Oceans Society to explore the deep ocean off the Pacific Coast of Canada departs from North Vancouver, B.C. on World Oceans Day (June 8th). The Finding Coral Expedition will search for deep sea corals using single person submarines that can dive to depths of 600 meters. A team of scientists will pilot the subs and gather information critical to increasing our understanding of the role that deep sea corals play in our ocean ecosystem.
“Around the world, countries are learning more about deep sea corals and taking the necessary steps to protect them from destructive fishing practices,” says Jennifer Lash, Executive Director of Living Oceans Society and leader of the Finding Coral Expedition. “In Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California deep sea corals have been given substantial protection. We want to see the same care given to the corals in British Columbia and we hope that this research expedition will go a long way to making that happen.”
Deep sea corals in British Columbia are virtually unprotected and remain vulnerable to impacts from bottom trawling and other harmful fishing gear. Living Oceans Society is concerned that these fishing practices will affect commercial fish stocks and the health of the ecosystem as well as the fate of the corals.
“My research in Alaska found that deep sea corals provided habitat for fish, crabs, shrimp and many other species,” says Dr. Thomas Shirley of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and a member of the Finding Coral Research Team. “We expect to find similar results in B.C., and if so, these corals need to be protected to support a healthy ocean ecosystem.”
Most of the information available about deep sea corals comes from the specimens that are caught in fishing nets, particularly bottom trawling gear. However, very little research has been done to understand the species of corals in B.C., the marine creatures that depend on them and the types of habitats the corals prefer.
“In 2008 Fisheries and Oceans Canada conducted a survey of corals on Learmonth Bank, north of Haida Gwaii,” says Greg Workman, a Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) scientist and member of the Finding Coral Research Team. “DFO is participating in the Finding Coral Expedition because we believe that this research will build on the data we gathered last summer. This is also the first time that manned submersibles have been used for this type of research.”
The Finding Coral Expedition will spend 14 days diving at six different locations where corals have been known to exist. “If the weather is on our side we will be able to conduct four dives per day,” Lash says. “We will be diving in places where nobody has been before and possibly seeing species never seen before. This is an incredible opportunity to learn more about the deep ocean ecosystem and the creatures that live there, and there is no better day to start this journey than on World Oceans Day.
Geoff Gilliard, Living Oceans Society, Cell: 604-999-6273
Tom Shirley, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, Cell: 604-999-6273
Greg Workman, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Cell: 604-999-6273
Photos, video, maps, biographies at www.findingcoral.com/media_contact or call Geoff Gilliard 604-999-6273
Around the world, countries have been taking action to protect deep sea corals including:
- Norway (1999): Banned bottom trawling on six deep sea coral reefs, covering over 2,000 km2, creating Europe’s largest deep sea coral protected area; more areas are proposed for protection.
- European Union (2004): Permanently closed Darwin Mounds (100 km2) off Scotland, to bottom trawling.
- Australia (1999, 2003): Created a network of 15 seamounts, covering 370 km2, which ban bottom trawling. The network covers 20 percent of the Tasmanian Seamounts. On one seamount, 90 percent of deep sea corals had already been destroyed by bottom trawling.
- New Zealand (2001): Protected 19 seamounts, comprising 40,000 km2, from bottom trawling.
- Alaska (2006): over 960,000 km2 were closed to bottom trawling. This includes 21 dense coral garden sites totalling 7,616 km2 (six Aleutian sites totalling 380 km2; ten Gulf of Alaska sites totalling 7,156 km2; and, five SE Alaska sites totalling 80 km2).
In Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) conducted a scientific review in 2006 that acknowledged deep sea habitat must be protected from fishing practices which contact the seafloor. They have also drafted the Impacts of Fishing on Sensitive Benthic Areas Policy, and a Coral and Sponge Conservation Strategy. However the polices are not finalized and there are no coral protection areas on the Pacific Coast of Canada.
Living Oceans Society is hoping to change this. In March 2009, DFO launched a marine planning process for the ocean realm adjacent to the Great Bear Rainforest called the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA), which extends from Campbell River to Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii. Living Oceans Society is advocating that the PNCIMA (pin-SEE-ma) Marine Planning Process provide the opportunity for fishermen, First Nations, environmental groups, scientists, DFO, and others to work together to conserve the deep sea corals as part of a broader strategy to conserve the health of this spectacular region. And the information gathered from the Finding Coral Expedition will help inform those discussions.
The Finding Coral Expedition will conduct research on deep sea corals within the PNCIMA Region. The results of this work will be peer reviewed and shared with the public. By working collaboratively through the PNCIMA Marine Planning Process, Living Oceans Society hopes to see a network of coral protection areas established before it is too late.