Despite a massive gap in knowledge of deep sea areas, destructive activities are authorised without any clear insight into their impact on local ecosystems. Slow-growing and vulnerable species and habitats are facing potentially irreversible damage.
"Activities such as oil prospecting, mining and destructive fishing reached the bottom of the sea a long time ago, but conservation has failed to catch up, remaining instead at the surface," stated Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director of Oceana in Europe.
High costs and inefficient technology have continuously left the deep sea off of research and conservation projects. If an area has not been studied, if its ecological significance has yet to be established and if an impact assessment hasn’t been carried out, it is not only irresponsible, but also dangerous for harmful activities to be permitted in these fragile areas.
"During our expeditions, we were saddened to find trash and debris hundreds of meters below the surface, in areas that had until we arrived, never or rarely been explored. One must take into account the effect that these assaults on the environment have on the entire food chain, including consumer species that feed or breed at these depths. It is clearly sensible to use a precautionary approach when considering potentially harmful activities and to protect the deep sea before it is irreversibly damaged," added Mr Aguilar.
In the deep-sea, beyond the reach of sunlight, cold-water corals, and fields of gorgonians and sponges form important habitats that provide shelter and food to many marine animals. Commercial fish, such as breams, codlings, congers and groupers, as well as various species of sharks and chimeras, can often also be found in these areas.