Tag Archives: marine conservation

Calling deep sea species ‘monsters’ may harm their conservation

The Conversation

Carla Litchfield, University of South Australia

Fans of the movie Finding Nemo may remember the terrifying fish that scares Dory (a blue tang) and Marlin (a clown fish) at the bottom of a trench.

But in reality this “monster”, a black seadevil, is only about 9 cm long, which would make it about a third of the size of Dory and potentially smaller than Marlin or Nemo.

In 2014, researchers at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute began studying a single black sea devil. It was caught and moved to a special darkroom laboratory designed to simulate its dark and cold natural habitat.

While this misconception or inaccuracy may seem harmless, it could pose problems for future conservation efforts, as people are more likely to support conservation of cute rather than creepy-looking animals.

While the angler fish is easily turned into a scary monster, the similar-sized tiny Pac-Man looking octopus is cute and popular with the public.

Deep sea commercial fishing nothing to celebrate

From 2000-2010, scientists described about 1,200 new species in the Census of Marine Life Program. While this figure may seem astounding, a further 5,000 individual dead creatures are in specimen jars, waiting to be described. The scientific process of describing new species is slow.

Specimens must be methodically collected, identified, and then the identity of new deep-water species must be confirmed.

People have always had a fascination for unusual creatures that they may never see. Many exotic land animals can be seen in zoos around the world, but few deep sea species are on display in aquaria. In the meantime, people on social media are hungry for images of strange and exotic animals of the sea.

As a result, a Russian fisherman working on deep sea commercial trawlers last year gained huge numbers of social media followers after posting photos and videos of some of the deep sea creatures caught on his ship, with some even stuffed by craftsmen on board.


Presumably, many of these specimens are bycatch, accidentally caught in nets trawling for other species popular with consumers. Sometimes bycatch, which includes marine mammals, is thrown back into the sea but it may end up on consumer plates.

If images are posted on social media by laypeople in a way that appears sensational and even heartless, and without any accurate information about the animals, then there is no resulting respect for these sea creatures or educational value. Simply viewing these creatures as freaks, ignores the importance of their role in keeping our oceans healthy.

A tripod fish deep below the Atlantic Ocean. NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Deep in danger

Most people will never spend time on a trawler fishing in deep oceans, but marine conservation and management policy depends on all of us being aware of the risks that human activities pose to marine ecosystems, such as deep water fishing, off shore mining and pollution.

If we call unusual deep sea animals monsters or demons or freaks, then we may harm their conservation as people are unlikely to connect with them or care about saving them.

On the other hand, their rarity clearly makes them popular on social media sites. For other species, this has resulted in increases in illegal trafficking for exotic pets, and aquariums. Deep sea species may potentially become illegally sourced taxidermy curiosities or food. Humans may end up eating these animals of the deep to extinction before their species are even known to science.

Rhinochimaera. NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Saving our ‘blue heart’

We still have so much to learn about deep marine ecosystems and their inhabitants, which have special adaptations for living in these typically cold and dark waters. With new submarines and technology, scientists are able to explore the ocean more easily.

The deepest part of any ocean is the Challenger Deep valley in the Mariana Trench, part of the Pacific Ocean, which is about 11,000 metres deep. By comparison, Mount Everest is about 8,550 metres tall.

The cold water of the North Atlantic, down to depths of about 1,800m, is home to the Greenland Shark, which can live for as long as 400 years!

A new species of beaked whale has also been discovered recently. It is smaller and darker than other beaked whales, perhaps because it forages for deep sea fish and giant squid at depths of up to 3,000m below sea level.

The public’s perceptions are often based on how ‘cute’ an animal is. NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Every habitat on earth is interconnected, and whatever we as humans do on the ground, or in the oceans has an impact on marine ecosystems. Removing deep sea predators and prey, and disturbing deep sea habitats, will change marine ecosystems in ways that we do not yet understand.

Some experts have compared the rapid global spread of unsustainable fishing technologies and practices to a pathological disease outbreak. Oceans are sometimes called the lifeblood of our planet, while rainforests are its lungs.

In reality, about 80% of our oxygen is produced by microorganisms in the oceans. This makes our oceans both the lungs and lifeblood of our planet. In fact, oceans are the blue heart of our planet and we must all try harder to save them.

The ConversationCarla Litchfield, Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Like eating fish? It’s time to start caring where it comes from

The Conversation

By Carissa Klein, The University of Queensland

Australians love seafood. Whether it’s fish and chips by the seaside or prawns on the barbie at Christmas, it’s integral to many of our traditions and social gatherings. Yet very little of the seafood we consume is sustainable. For a country that has such a love affair with the ocean, I find this perplexing.

The health of the world’s oceans and its fisheries are in decline, and this applies to one of Australia’s most precious icons, the Great Barrier Reef. Although there a range of actions required to reverse this decline, one simple thing that anyone can do is stop eating unsustainable seafood.

But why isn’t this already happening? There’s a lack of awareness and action, as will hopefully be highlighted by the new SBS documentary series What’s the Catch?. The good news is that there are simple things we can do about this problem.

Sustainable seafood can be defined in various ways, but as Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide (and its counterparts around the world) makes clear, sustainability is not only about the status of individual species stocks, but the impact of fishing on our oceans, which includes the broader effects of fishing on habitats and ecosystems.

Three key steps to sustainability

Here are three key things that are needed to shift Australia’s love for seafood from unsustainable to sustainable.

1. Leadership from the marine conservation community

As a marine conservation scientist, I’m continuously struck by the prevalence of unsustainable and/or unlabelled seafood at science and conservation meetings and social gatherings.

This observation prompted me and some colleagues to assess the sustainability of seafood served at seven marine ecology and conservation meetings held in Australia (attended by over 4000 people from around the world). To score them, we used a publicly available guide which considers population stock status and the impact of fishing or aquaculture method.

Our results showed that seafood was served at all the meetings, and at more than half of the meetings at least one unsustainable species was on offer. Only about a third of the meetings offered a sustainable choice. If marine conservationists struggle to eat sustainable seafood at their own meetings, what hope is there for everyone else?

Marine scientists and conservationists urgently need to turn science into action, and to lead by personal example.

2. Easily accessible sustainable seafood

As a consumer of seafood, I want sustainable options. However, I usually find that the average fish and chip shop or restaurant has few (sometimes no) sustainable options on the menu.

There are restaurants that specialize in sourcing sustainable seafood (such as Swamp Dog in Brisbane); a great initiative but all too rare. What we need is to be able to head to the local fish and chip shop, perhaps after a day at the beach, and reliably find sustainable choices.

And as much as we need easy access to sustainable seafood, we also need there to be no access to clearly unsustainable seafood. For example, it’s common to see Orange Roughy on menus, despite it listed widely as an unsustainable choice and even listed as “conservation dependent” under Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Another problem with sourcing sustainable seafood is inconsistency in seafood guides. Fish that your local supermarket claims is sustainable may not be labelled as such in other guides. Who do you trust? I usually end up walking away empty-handed, but who can blame shoppers for going ahead and buying it anyway if they’re told it’s a responsible choice?

In some ways, the problem is similar to the difficulty of finding a range of organic vegetables at the local fruit and veg shop or supermarket. One way that this has been addressed in agriculture is through “fruit and veg box” schemes, in which you choose a provider you trust to supply you with sustainably grown (organic and local) vegetables.

Similar schemes for seafood, such as this one in Santa Barbara, California, are still rare. There’s no doubt that a project like this would help consumers in Australia eat more sustainable seafood.

3. Stronger labelling laws

Unlike in Europe, Australia’s seafood labelling laws are weak. When you order cooked seafood, you can’t be sure of where it is coming from (Australia or overseas) or what species you are eating, despite what the vendor tells you.

You may have thought your last order of barramundi was a good choice – either sustainably farmed or locally caught. But more than two-thirds of the barramundi consumed in Australia is imported.

If we can’t rely on labels in fish and chip shops or restaurants, how can we choose sustainable options? This is the focus of the Label My Fish and of the new SBS series.

Australia is viewed as a global leader in marine conservation by many other countries, primarily due to the rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 2004, which set aside 33% of its area as no-take zones. This reputation is now at stake.

To be a true leader, Australians will need to make some serious modifications to the seafood market to ensure that it is more sustainable. As stated by the Centre for Policy Development’s recent report on fisheries management, “Australia could be a leader in sustainable seafood production”.

But first we have to care what’s on our plate.

The ConversationCarissa Klein does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Republished with permission). Read the original article.

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