On the occasion of World Oceans Day, Oceana calls attention to the forgotten of the sea, a list of marine species and habitats put together by the international marine conservation organisation. All of them deserve protection or urgent conservation measures because of their importance to the ecosystem, and they represent many others that are also neglected by the regulations.
“Often the absence of conservation measures is justified by the lack of scientific knowledge, but paradoxically this does not prevent the authorisation of destructive industrial activities. On World Oceans Day, Oceana calls on politicians to manage the sea according to the precautionary principle, to avoid irreversible losses,” explains Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe. “A good place to start would be the seamounts and submarine canyons, of which less than 0.1% are protected worldwide, despite the fact that they are recognised as biodiversity hotspots due to the wide variety of habitats that they provide.”
The list of the forgotten includes:
- Swordfish: Despite being an important commercial species, the swordfish suffers from overfishing and a lack of management plans for the Mediterranean, where it is fished without any control. In the past, specimens exceeded as much as 4.5 metres, but those that are caught today are between 1 and 2 metres in length.
- Coccolithophores: These unicellular algae capture CO2, produce a huge amount of oxygen and are food for many organisms, but they are threatened by ocean acidification caused by climate change and there are no plans to protect them.
- Guitarfish and saw fish: Both are on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “critically endangered” and many populations have already disappeared before being protected.
- The bamboo corals live in muddy seabeds where destructive fishing methods are permitted and have also disappeared from many areas. The European legislation provides them with precious little protection, even though they are essential for many other species.
- The cephalopods are key species for many predators such as dolphins, sharks, turtles and swordfish, but benefit from hardly any management measures on a global level.
- Polar habitats: These are not covered by international conventions, despite being at serious risk from climate change and recent findings suggesting that they are home to unique species.
- Haploops communities: Little is known about this habitat formed by crustaceans, but it is very important for the food supply of commercial species such as cod and flatfish. Information about its distribution is scarce and so are plans for its management and conservation.
- Deep water brine pools are bodies of water with high salinity which are home to chemosynthetic organisms (bacteria) which do not depend on the light of the sun for their survival. They form special associations with other organisms in extreme conditions, creating pockets of unique biodiversity.
- The fossil and subfossil ecosystems – such as those formed by corals, bivalves and sponges – serve to provide substrate and nutrients for other species, and it is even possible to find some that are alive.
- The spawning areas of fish are essential habitats in the life cycles of all species, but in many cases they lack protection.
“The oceans play a key role in tackling climate change as they absorb more CO2 than even the tropical rainforests. Maintaining their equilibrium should be an international political priority,” explains Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research for Oceana in Europe. “Organisms such as the planktonic coccolithophores and habitats such as the seagrass meadows of Zostera in Europe are major producers of oxygen and therefore their conservation is essential.”
Photo album: “The forgotten”