Irish Government takes major step
to protect coral reefs

27 June 2005

Malahide, Ireland - WWF welcomes the Irish Government’s move to protect the country’s 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 Ireland’s 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.

Ireland’s 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.

For further information:
Sara McClintock, WWF Northern Ireland, tel: +44 28 9335 5166
Stephan Lutter
, WWF North-East Atlantic Programme, tel: +49 421 6584622 or +49 171 5487312

Editor's notes

WWF, the global environment network, takes action to conserve endangered species, protect endangered spaces and address global environmental threats, by seeking long-term solutions. WWF is now known simply by its initials and the panda logo.

* The OSPAR Convention is the legal framework to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic from land-based pollution and human impacts at sea. There are 16 Contracting Parties sharing the maritime and/or catchment area: Belgium, Denmark, the EC, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In addition, the maritime area includes international waters.
* The OSPAR Commission is the governing body to adopt decisions, recommendations and/or other agreements under the Convention on an annual basis.
* The last OSPAR Ministerial Meeting was held in Bremen, Germany, June 2003, and adopted key commitments to protect marine biodiversity.
* WWF along with other NGOs has observer status to OSPAR and its Committees and Working Groups.


* Saving Europe's coral reefs - a matter of urgency

* Cold-water corals - fragile havens in the deep (download as PDF file)

* WWF's submissions to OSPAR 2005