New study highlights urgent need to safeguard deep reefs

December 12, 2022 /

Category : Science

Tags : Marine conservation, Ocean policy, Marine ecosystems, Ecosystem management, Climate change

New study highlights urgent need to safeguard deep reefs

Scientists call for the urgent conservation of deep reefs, one of the planet’s largest and least protected ecosystems.

As world leaders, government negotiators, scientists, and conservationists gather at the UN Biodiversity Conference, COP15, to agree to halt and reverse nature loss, an international team of marine scientists and conservationists have made an impassioned plea for the urgent conservation of deep reefs.

Their calls are based on a new study recently published in the journal Conservation Letters, led by scientists from Nekton, the Western Indian Ocean (WIO), and the University of Oxford. This confirms for the first time that deep reef habitats, notably in the WIO, are largely unprotected despite being under threat from a multitude of stressors, including overfishing, pollution, climate change, and, in the near future, seabed mining.

Their calls follow COP27 in Egypt, where many scientists, politicians, and campaigners concluded that the 1.5C climate goal died, signing the death warrant on the vast majority of shallow reefs.

Deep reefs (found below 30 m) provide essential ecosystem services for climate change resilience, ocean health, and food security whilst also acting as a refugia for organisms threatened in shallow water, including commercially important species. Despite this, deep reefs are barely protected, even though they have a larger geographic footprint than their shallower counterparts. Furthermore, the scarcity of fish in shallow waters combined with modern deep-sea fishing technologies is resulting in deep reefs being increasingly exploited by coastal communities that need fish for their food security.

We strongly encourage deep reefs to be included in conservation and sustainable management action to complement global targets, notably 30% protection of the global ocean by 2030” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Paris Stefanoudis, a marine biologist at the University of Oxford’s Department of Biology and a Research Scientist at Nekton. “Deep reefs are critical to a healthy marine ecosystem and face similar threats from overfishing, pollution, and climate change faced by the much-imperilled shallow reef system.

The research work was published in Conservation Letters on October 27, 2022.