Even places that most people think of as “natural” aren’t. The New England forest was clear-cut only 100 years ago, the Alaskan wilderness is managed for game (which means killing wolves), the southern California kelp forests are denuded of otters, abalone, and big fish, and on and on. So when a truly natural place is found, wouldn’t it behoove us as a species to protect it, if only to say, “Here is one place in the world that does not reflect us?”
Yeah, right. Melting sea ice recently uncovered two vast canyons in the Bering Sea, home to slow-growing deep sea corals, crystalline barrel sponges, crinoids, baby king crabs, and on and on. Hard-bottom habitat is scarce in the deep sea, so these are special places. But of course the fisheries eager to trawl for valuable groundfish like rockfish and sable.
I don’t have an inherent problem with fishing – I love seafood. But I have a serious problem with shredding delicate, rare creatures hundreds of years old. Trawling devastated the ocean floor – it’s the equivalent of clear-cutting a forest to flush out a couple deer. Worse, it’s short-sighted. Trawling destroys the very habitat that nurtures commercial species. If all the three-dimensional corals and sponges are ripped up, there’s no hiding place for baby king crabs or tiny salmon. Check out these before-and-after trawling photos collected by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.
But, since fisheries are a hugely powerful lobby, the National Marine Fisheries Service claims that the Bering Sea canyons are not “habitats of particular concern” and has no plans to protect them. Apparently we indeed must leave our mark everywhere.
While I’m on the topic of “wrecking beautiful creatures with heavy objects,” Deep Sea News has a great series on anchor damage on the Saba Bank in the Netherlands Antilles. Here’s a photo of what an tanker anchor does to a coral reef. And here’s two underwater movies. Remember that coral takes hundreds of years to grow – even those sponges are probably 50 years old.