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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Deep sea may be out of sight, but the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition keeps it in our minds

"Out of sight, out of mind".

If this statement has any truth to it, then there is perhaps no part of earth that is more out of humans' minds than the deep waters of the high seas.

The high seas, of course, refers to the vast ocean expanses that are beyond any nation's jurisdiction. While the concept of the 'high seas' has long been a reliable source of inspiration for shore-bound romantics, the people who have actually been drawn to them have often had less-than-lofty aims in mind. In particular, the high seas' aura of lawlessness has drawn people and entities seeking to do things that they simply could not do in places with stricter oversight. This unfortunate tradition continues even today, in the form of high-seas bottom trawling.

Canadians on the west coast are no strangers to the perils of unregulated high-seas fishing: the words "high-seas driftnet fishing" still resonate here, nearly two decades after a moratorium on this practice that caught North American salmon on the high seas of the North Pacific. While this infamous example of destructive high-seas fishing has been stopped, the same cannot yet be said for unregulated high-seas bottom trawl fisheries.

Deep-sea bottom trawlers scour far-flung networks of undersea mountains, known as seamounts, in search of deep-sea fish. By operating in areas with minimal or no oversight, these vessels are free to catch whatever they want, throw back whatever they want, and to damage and destroy fragile habitat with no fear of repercussions.

Since the deep waters of the high seas are about as far out of sight as it's possible to get on this earth, the impacts of these unregulated deep-sea fisheries would likely never enter our collective mind if it weren't for the efforts of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.

Move over, pandas and sequoias: the DSCC is going
to make the mighty roundnose grenadier a household name
The DSCC is comprised of more than 70 environmental organizations from around the world (Living Oceans Society is a member). Led by a steering group composed of several intrepid individuals, the DSCC works to improve the the conservation of deep sea species and ecosystems on the high seas. They do this by attending, and contributing to, meetings of the United Nations and the many regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) that manage fishing in vast stretches of the high seas.

The DSCC, effectively, is a very small group of individuals who are devoted to the health of the world's most far-flung ecosystem. You know how we always assume that 'somebody' is making sure that things are going well? Well, the DSCC is the very small handful of 'somebodys' for deep-sea ecosystems on the high seas.

And now, the DSCC is putting out the word: they need your help. This September, the United Nations General Assembly is set to conduct the first-ever review of the measures that nations and RFMOs have taken to protect deep-sea communities on the high seas. The DSCC has conducted its own review and has found major gaps in protection, and it is calling on the UN and nations to take 5 steps necessary to protect deep-sea ecosystems in the high seas.

Tomorrow, look for a guest blog post by Mark Gibson, who will discuss this effort in more detail. Until then: take a moment to think about the deep seas. Try to envision an area where light never penetrates, where fish can be decades old and corals can be centuries old. Try to imagine the chains of towering, hidden mountains that are home to coral and sponge gardens, and countless organisms that neither you or I, nor any human, have ever seen. Try to imagine the vastness of the challenge of protecting these distant, remote areas, and then spare a thought for the good people at the DSCC, who work tirelessly for this very reason.

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