Greenpeace places boulders into the German North Sea to prevent bottom trawling in this August 2008 photo. The environmental organization placed 180 boulders into the sea off the Swedish coast earlier this week to curb bottom trawling there as well. Images courtesy of Greenpeace/Bente Stachowske.
I'm often on the fence regarding Greenpeace's methods, which can cross the line from activism to radicalism. But I can't help but love a recent approach the organization took to dealing with a tangled net of European politics. Last Monday, Greenpeace activists dumped about 180 massive boulders (0.5 to 3 tons each) into the waters off of Sweden. Why? It's simple: Big boulders make bottom trawling impossible.Bottom trawling involves dragging chained nets over the sea floor to scoop up the catch. It's a devastating practice that can yield as much as 80 percent bycatch--unwanted marine life, which is then thrown back into the water, often dead or in grave health.
The granite rocks were dumped in two areas, Fladen and Lilla Middelgrund in the Kattegat, that are Natura 2000 sites, meaning they are designated as needing protection under the European Union's Habitats Directive. Both areas are home to unique and rich sea life that is being destroyed by the fisheries.
So why is bottom trawling still permitted in the area? Well, it's complicated. Sweden's hands are effectively tied by the EU Common Fisheries Policy, which has control over regulating member states' fisheries; in other words, any policy changes and decisions regarding fisheries must be made at the EU-level.
Greenpeace ocean campaigner Isadora Wronski is, of course, calling on Sweden to do more:
"The Swedish government needs to fulfill its commitment to protect the area and put a permanent ban on fishing in Fladen and Lilla Middelgrund. ... Throughout Europe, marine protection only exists on paper. Our seas cannot wait any longer, their survival is at stake and politicians need to take action and implement laws that will protect the life of the seas today and for the future."
Greenpeace wants Sweden to work toward reforming the EU Common Fisheries Policy in order to give member states the power to enact controls to protect marine ecosystems.
A Vital Ecosystem
Fladen and Lilla Middelgrund are home to the last maerl beds and bubble reefs in Swedish waters.
Maerl beds are unique habitats created by free-living coralline algae, and bubble reefs are formed when methane and hydrogen sulfide in the sea floor push up lime deposits from the sea bed. Both habitats are easily destroyed by bottom trawling.
The area is also a winter feeding ground for seabirds, and was once a feeding ground for fish and spawning grounds for herring, before the cod stocks collapsed.
A Solution that Works
This isn't the first time Greenpeace has placed boulders into coastal waters to protect a Natura 2000 area. Last year they built a wall with 150 boulders in Germany’s Sylt Outer Reef in the North Sea.
According to Greenpeace, bottom trawlers haven't been able to fish in the area since the boulders were added to the water a year ago, and the rocks are already colonized by marine life.