Protecting Dutch waters of the Brown Bank would preserve fragile worm reefs that were thought to have disappeared
Oceana and the North Sea Foundation call for the designation of the Brown Bank as a marine protected area, after having discovered fragile and ecologically important Sabellaria worm reefs in Dutch waters. These rare biodiversity hotspots are home to a diverse fauna, and were believed to have disappeared from the Netherlands. The Brown Bank is a shared area with the UK, and current protection is limited to just one species (harbour porpoise) on the British side.
“We call on the Dutch government to urgently protect the Brown Bank,” said Ricardo Aguilar, research director for Oceana Europe. “The discovery of worm reefs in the Brown Bank comes as a total surprise. These fragile habitats were thought to have been long-extinct in Dutch waters, due to intensive human activity, including overfishing. Preserving these living reefs will also preserve many species that depend on them,” Aguilar added.
The finding was made during an Oceana 2017 expedition, as part of a project generously funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery. The purpose of the project is to gather crucial data needed to strengthen protection of the North Sea. Oceana in partnership with the North Sea Foundation collaborated with scientists from the DISCLOSE project for the Dutch leg of the research cruise onboard the vessel Neptune.
An earlier Oceana expedition in 2016 found ross worm aggregations in UK waters of the Brown Bank, suggesting that reefs may also occur there. For this reason, Oceana recommends that the UK government conduct comprehensive seabed mapping of the Brown Bank, in search of potential Sabellaria reefs.
“The discovery of these reefs in our North Sea provides hope for the future of this precious ecosystem. To preserve this future, these reefs need immediate protection,”. stated Floris van Hest, director of the North Sea Foundation
No measures are currently in place to protect the Dutch side of the Brown Bank, which is intensively fished by beam trawlers dragging heavy fishing gear across the seabed. The area is already known to qualify for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, due to its importance for seabirds. It also provides important spawning and nursery habitat for commercial fish species such as cod, herring, mackerel, and plaice. Although the biodiversity importance of the Brown Bank has been recognised for many years, the Dutch authorities have so far failed to prioritise its protection.
Read the report Protecting the North Sea: Brown Bank
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