Greenpeace and Protecting Underwater Canyons

John Hocevar visited MBARI yesterday discussing Greenpeace’s research on canyons in the Bering Sea. We’ve discussedthisresearchbefore but a followup is worthy of another post. Greenpeace has been trying to convince the powers that be to protect deep-sea diversity from fisheries practices. Unsurprisingly, some people don’t give a damn about the deep. It’s all I get mine and make some Benjamins. Some of the focus has been on Zhemchug and Pribilof Canyons. Zhemchug is the largest canyon in the world by volume (19x Monterey Canyon where my current interests and research are focused) and Pribilof which is in the top 10. Who doesn’t love a big crevasse? The native Alaskan communities do! They depend on fish that inhabit the canyons.

One of the obstacles to setting aside these two canyons has been a lack of information about the fauna residing there.

While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) acknowledges that the canyons are diverse and rare habitats, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council announced in December, 2006 that not enough was known about these areas to justify their protection.

To reiterate f#$% the precautionary principle. Waa, waa, waa, we need more data. Can you say broken record? Luckily, Greenpeace funded and led research expeditions utilizing both submersibles and ROV’s to provide the necessary data. Indeed, it was interesting to hear that Greenpeace, since its beginning 37 years ago, often funds research to acquire data for conservation efforts.


Recent work at Zhemchug and Pribilof Canyons documented 14 distinct coral species and 20+ sponges. Often other species, like crabs and fish, were seen only in conjunction with these corals and sponges. Many of these records are the first documentation of these species in the Bering Sea. Evidence was abound of swaths of damaged corals and sponges from both trawling and bottom long lining.

Hopefully this new data will be instrumental in providing these two canyons more protections. Interestingly the presences of deep-water corals means that the area will receive more interest. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act corals must be located, mapped, and impacts to them reduced. Moreover, regular reports to Congress are required demonstrating process is being made on all these fronts.

Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

One comment on “Greenpeace and Protecting Underwater Canyons
  1. “To reiterate, f#$% the precautionary principle, Waa, waa, waa, we need more data.” Yep, that about sums up right-wing response to pretty much every environmental problem there is.

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