Scientists' request support from the Australian Government for an international ban on deep ocean bottom-trawling

An open letter concerning the protection of deep-sea biodiversity from over 100 marine scientists and delegates attending the International Marine Protected Areas Congress, Geelong, October 21-26 2005.


Senator the Hon. Ian MacDonald
Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
fax 02-6273 7096

Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

The Hon. Alexander Downer
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

26 October 2005

Dear Ministers,

We urge you to take advantage of a historical opportunity to secure significant protection for the world's deep-ocean ecosystems on the High Seas - the two-thirds of the world's oceans that lie beyond the jurisdiction of any nation. There is growing international support for a United Nations General Assembly resolution to put in place a global moratorium on High Seas bottom trawling.

We are calling on you to promote the negotiation of a moratorium on High Seas bottom trawling at the United Nations General Assembly this year, and to show leadership in regional fora such as the Pacific Island Forum and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to secure support for that moratorium.

We would like to draw your attention to the fact that over the past several years the scientific community has expressed increasing concern over the impact of bottom trawl fishing on cold-water corals and other vulnerable deep-sea species and ecosystems.

At the 10th Deep-Sea Biology Symposium and the 2nd International Symposium on Deep Sea Corals, both held in 2003, over 100 scientists signed a letter of concern to the United Nations General Assembly. The letter stated:

  • populations of numerous commercially important species of deep-sea fish and precious corals associated with seamounts, ridges, plateaus, continental slopes, coral reefs and sponge fields in the deep-sea have been serially depleted by fishing;
  • benthic habitats and communities have been severely damaged by fishing activities;
  • the biological characteristics of most deep-sea species render the deep sea particularly sensitive to anthropogenic disturbance and exploitation;
  • although knowledge of deep-sea biodiversity is limited, evidence to date suggests that deep water habitats such as coral, seamount, seep and vent ecosystems are likely to harbour distinct assemblages of diverse and highly endemic species.

The lack of effective international regulations for the conservation of natural systems and the protection of the biodiversity of the deep sea on the High Seas, as well as within areas of national jurisdiction (EEZs), is a cause of great concern. In this regard, consistent with the precautionary approach, we recommend that:

  • the conservation and protection of the biodiversity of the deep sea is the responsibility of all nations, in particular on the global ocean commons - the High Seas;
  • the UN General Assembly should adopt a moratorium on deep-sea bottom trawl fishing on the High Seas effective immediately.

Subsequently, 1,136 scientists from 69 countries, including over forty marine biologists from Australia, endorsed the Scientists' Statement on Protecting the World's Deep-sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems released at the February 2004 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, calling on the UN General Assembly to adopt a moratorium on bottom trawl fishing on the High Seas. In December 2004, the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution expressed similar concern with respect to deep-sea bottom trawl fishing, urging that it be banned in national waters of the UK.

Ministers, the resolution of this issue requires strong international leadership, something which the Australian government has shown in its determined efforts to end commercial whaling. We ask you to again take the lead on an international marine conservation issue by building support at the UN General Assembly for a moratorium on High Seas bottom trawling. This is a vital action needed to protect deep-sea corals and other vulnerable species before more of these ecosystems are irreparably destroyed and their wealth lost to present and future generations.


Signed by 
(affiliations are for identification only, and do not imply endorsement by the signer's institution):

 Aarthi Sridhar, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, India

Alan White, Coastal Conservation Foundation, Hawaii, USA

Alistair Birtles, Marine and Coastal Community Network, Australia

Allison Arnold, New Zealand

Andrea Ramirez, University of Sydney, Australia

Andrew Porter, Charles Sturt University, Albury, Australia

Anita Makinen, WWF, Finland

Anna Nojd, Finland

Anne Solomon, University of Washington, USA

Antasia Azure, Yale University, USA

Anthony Flaherty, Oceans Defenders Inc., Australia

Arlo Hemphill, Conservation International

Asa Anderrson, Sweden

Aude Loisier, University of Newcastle, Australia

Ben Sharp, New Zealand

Beth Beveridge, Sydney University, Australia

Bill Foster, Marine and Coastal Community Network, Australia

Carlo Franzosini, Trieste, Italy

Charlotte Karibuhoye, Regional MPAS Network Support Project, West Africa

Chris Marshall, NSW Department of Environment and Conservation

Chris Smyth, Australian Conservation Foundation, Australia

Chris Stone, Conservation International

Christy Loper, University of Delaware, USA

Cleto Nanola, DAI-ECOGOV, Philippines

Dana Saunders, Environmental Film Resources, Berkeley, California, USA

Deb Pople, James Cook University, Australia

Dermot Smyth, James Cook University, Queensland

David Pollard, formerly Principal Research Scientist, NSW Fisheries, Sydney, Australia

Emily Stoddart, University of Western Australia, Australia

Eric Clua, Coral Reef Initiative for the South Pacific

Even Moland, Institute of Marine Research, Norway

Felicity Chapman, Mabunji Aboriginal Resource Association, Barraboola, Northern Territory

Gabrielle Dorr, National Oceans and Atmospheric Agency, USA

Gail Osherenko University of California, Santa Barbara

Gary Braasch, World View of Global Warming

Graeme Kelleher, World Commission on Protected Areas, Australia

Graham Edgar, University of Tasmania, Australia

Greg Wearne, Allansford, Australia

Gunter Forsterra, Tundacion Huinay, Chile

Harison Randrianasolo, Conservation International

Helen Andrews, Australia

Helen Fox, WWF US

Henning von Nordheim, German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, Germany

Herilala Randriamahazo, Wildlife Conservation Society, Madagascar

Jacqueline Alder, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia

Jan Ekebom, Metsahallitus Natural Heritage Services, Finland

Jan Seys, Flanders Marine Institute, Belgium

Jane Harris, University of Tasmania, Australia

Jason Philibotte, Community Conservation Network, Hawaii, USA

Jeff Ardron, NABU/Birdlife International, Germany

Joanna Axford, University of Queensland, Australia

Jochen Krause, BFN, Germany

Jodi Stark, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Canada

John Baxter, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scotland

John Christopherson, Cobourg Peninsula, Northern Territory

Jon Nevill, OnlyOnePlanet, Melbourne

Julie Hawkins, University of York, United Kingdom

Karen Edyvane, School of geography, University of Tasmania, Australia

Karli Thomas, Greenpeace International, Amsterdam

Kartik Shanker, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, India

Kathy Walls, Wellington, New Zealand

Kristin Sherwood, Packard Foundation, USA

Kristina Gjerde, IUCN Global Marine Program

Leonardo Tunesi, ICRAM, Italy

Lindsay Chongseng, SIF, Seychelles

Louise Lieberknednt, Germany

Lyndon DeVantier, CREST, Queensland

Lynnath Beckley, Murdoch University, Western Australian Conservation Foundation

Lynne Cherry, Cornell University, Washington DC, USA

Manuel Mejia, Locally Managed Marine Area Network, Community Conservation Network

Margaret Ayre, Battery Point, Tasmania

Maria Beger, University of Queensland, Australia

Maria de los Angeles Carvajal, Conservation International, Mexico

Martina Carosi, Sydney University, Australia

Mohammad Reza Shokri, University of Newcastle, Australia

Muhammad Farid, Conservation International, Indonesia

Nadia Abesamis, Conservation International, Philippines

Nadia Menard, Parks Canada, Canada

Neil Martin, Allansford Victoria

Nickie Butt, Southampton Solent University, United Kingdom

Patricia von Baumgarten, Adelaide, Australia

Paul Hastings, Coastal Marine Facilitator, Conservation Council of South Australia

Paul Macnab, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Paula Brown, Sydney University, Australia

Philippe Paul Razafinjalaro, Conservation International, Madagascar

Pierre Campredon, Regional Programme for the Conservation Marine and Coastal Areas of West Africa (PRCM)

Pippa Gravestock, Environmental Consultant, United Kingdom

Professor Callum Roberts, Environment Department, University of York, United Kingdom

Remi Ratsimbazafy, WWF, Madagascar

Ricardo Haroun Tabraue, University of Las Palmas de G.C., Spain

Robert Fine, Conservation International, USA

Roberta Dixon, Marine and Coastal Community Network, Australia

Samia Sarkis, Department of Conservation Services, Bermuda

Scott Henderrson, Conservation International

Shiela McKenna, Conservation International, USA

Sidi Moine Ould Mohamed, Parc National du Banc d'Arguin, Mauritania

Sigrid Robertson, University of Melbourne, Australia

Simon Harding, Wildlife Conservation Society, Madagascar

Suchai (Yo) Worachananant, Department of Marine Science, Kasetsart University, Thailand.

Sue Miller Taei, Conservation International

Sue Wells, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, United Kingdom

Susie Grant, Scott Polar Research Institute, United Kingdom

Sylvia Earle, Conservation International and National Geographic

Timothy Langlois, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Verena Hausserrmann, Tundacion Huinay, Chile

Wayne Kuo, Centre for Maritime Policy, University of Wollongong, Australia

Yasser Said, Red Sea Marine Park, Egypt