From: Patricia Reaney, Reuters
Published September 5, 2005 12:00 AM

Irish Coral Reefs Bulldozed by Deep-Sea Trawlers

DUBLIN — Deep-sea fishing trawlers are bulldozing 4,500 year-old cold water coral reefs off western Ireland, a British marine biologist said on Monday.


Dr Jason Hall-Spencer, of the University of Plymouth in southern England, told an international science conference urgent measures were needed to preserve the spectacular kilometre-deep coral and unusual organisms that thrive in the ocean depths.


"Some of these areas have yet to be explored, but even before we have had a chance to see their treasures, they are being bulldozed by deep-water trawling. It is crucial that we take steps to protect the coral reefs before it is too late," he said.


Despite calls for international efforts to stop fishing nations from ravaging ocean beds and destroying cold-water coral, Hall-Spencer said there was no protection for the reefs located 85 kilometres (53 miles) off the Irish coast.


He estimated that about 40 percent of the coral reefs had been destroyed.


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"Protection is needed now," said Hall-Spencer. "The idea is to get in quick to preserve the few bits that are left.


Deep-sea coral reefs have also have also been found in Norway, Sweden, Japan, Alaska, Nova Scotia, Maine, Colombia, Brazil and Mauritania.


Commercial trawlers in search of fish drag heavy-weighted nets along the bottom of the sea and damage the sponges, coral and other organisms in the process.


Hall-Spencer explored and filmed Ireland's coral reefs from a 1 kilometre (0.6 mile) depth with colleagues on a 2003 expedition on the German research ship Polarstem using a French remote-operated underwater robot called Victor.


Unlike coral reefs in warm, clear, shallow tropical oceans, deep-sea reefs don't need sunlight and can be found at great depths.


Hall-Spencer said the destruction of the delicate ecosystems was an international problem needing innovative solutions.


He told the British Association for the Advancement of Science conference that satellite tracking could be used to monitor and manage the activities of the offshore fleets.


About 20,000 people are expected to attend the week-long science festival from Sept 3-10 at Trinity College in Dublin.


Source: Reuters


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