Irish Government takes major step
to protect coral reefs
27 June 2005
Malahide, Ireland - WWF welcomes the Irish Governments move to protect the countrys cold-water coral reefs announced by Pat the Cope Gallagher, Marine Minister, at the OSPAR Commission Meeting in Malahide today. The global environmental organisation says that this important step will serve to protect Irelands marine treasures and will be of long-term benefit to the fishing industry.
According to the Minister these habitats will be conserved by nominating four sites in Irish waters as marine protected areas and by preventing harmful fishing practice in three others in international waters. Scientific evidence shows a clear correlation between bottom trawling and coral destruction. In Irish waters severe impacts from static fishing gear have also been recorded.
"The Irish Government is fully committed to the conservation of these remarkable habitats, said Pat the Cope Gallagher.
"This should be considered a win-win situation for environmentalists and fishermen. Careful management of human activities at these vulnerable deep-water habitats protects the marine food web and helps to ensure the long-term survival of fish stocks in Irish waters, said Stephan Lutter, Director, WWF North-East Atlantic Marine Ecoregion Programme.
Irelands cold-water coral reefs, situated off the West coast, are home to a recorded 1300 species of invertebrates and fish, including commercially important ones such as redfish. These unique habitats are similar to the coral reefs found in warmer and shallower waters, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. They take thousands of years to form and have very poor recovery rates once damaged.
"In certain areas of the North-East Atlantic, an estimated 30-50% of coral habitats have been smashed to smithereens and lost in the past. The ongoing destruction must be halted. Lutter said.
The measures announced today place Ireland at the forefront of protection for cold-water corals in Europe. Norway and Sweden have already made bold moves to close reefs in their waters to bottom trawling In UK waters, the Darwin Mounds north west of Scotland were saved from fishing impacts. However, other countries such as France and Portugal have so far failed to put such measures in place despite having committed, in 2003, to take immediate steps to protect the reefs, and to nominate marine protected areas in their waters before the end of 2005. WWF fears that most countries will miss this deadline.
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