Watch the video: www.edf.org/deepseacorals
(Charleston, SC – September 17, 2009) Environmental Defense Fund saluted the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council today for its final vote to protect what may be Earth's largest deepwater coral ecosystem off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. A veritable wonderland of marine life, the 25,000-square-mile area is among the most important in the world for marine species and for exploration for biopharmaceuticals.
A first for fishery councils in the United States, the model safeguards strike an innovative balance between protecting critical habitat while allowing fishermen continued access to traditional fishing grounds using gears that do minimal damage to reefs.
The action by the regional council, which is meeting this week in Charleston, SC, culminates 10 years of collaboration between scientists, managers, conservationists and fishermen.
"We started with the idea of protecting every single square mile, even before we knew how many there were," said Doug Rader, chief oceans scientists for Environmental Defense Fund. "The final plan incorporates the science coming straight from research vessels. I know of no other process in the world where unpublished, brand-new science was translated so directly into world-class protection for a unique natural resource."
Rader served as chair of the regional committee that developed the protection plan. He was instrumental in bringing together fishery managers and fishermen to chart the areas in which fishing is allowed with certain gear.
"The plan could not have happened without the scientists who shared privileged data, the fishery managers who imagined this stunning outcome, and the fishermen who worked side-by-side on the design," said Rader. "We commend the commercial fishermen who participate in the golden crab and royal red shrimp fisheries for their collaboration. Working together, we set an important example of co-management that can be replicated in other fisheries."
The fragile reefs lie 1,000 feet or more below the ocean's surface. Individual colonies may be more than 1,000 years old, and individual coral mounds may be more than one million years old.