05 September 2005

New research reveals extent of coral damage by trawler nets

EUROPE'S deep-water coral reefs - comparable to tropical coral reefs in the rich diversity of species they support - are being systematically destroyed by trawler nets, a new survey by marine biologists has revealed.

The Atlantic waters off Scotland, Ireland and Norway contain some of the world's biggest and most spectacular concentrations of deep-water reefs, many of which have remained in pristine condition since the last Ice Age.

But over the past ten years, scores of trawlers with extra-long trawl lines have been adapted to target deep-sea fish and, as a result, delicate coral formations are being smashed up by heavy-gauge nets dragged along the seabed.

Dr Jason Hall-Spencer, a Plymouth University marine biologist specialising in cold-water reefs, said yesterday: "These trawlers go out for two weeks at a time and during one trip they can cover 33 square kilometres of seabed.

"Few people realise that we have such precious and dramatic habitats right on our doorstep. 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."

His latest research on trawler damage - including previously unseen video footage of the Porcupine Bank reef off western Ireland - will be presented to the British Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Dublin today.

The video pictures, taken using a robot submarine similar to the one seen in the film Titanic, clearly show trawl nets tangled up with coral, trawl scars and flattened coral rubble.

Source: news.scotsman.com


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