We know that bottom trawling -- the practice of dragging a net across the sea floor to collect anything and everything in its path -- is incredibly destructive to ocean life. It tears apart fragile corals and habitat, and brings up more by-catch than marketable fish. And that's not the only harm humans inflict on the deep ocean floor. However, the extent of our destruction hasn't been measured until now. Scientists have taken a close look at the deep seafloor in the North East Atlantic and, considering a range of other human activities that impact the area, found that the damage caused by trawling activities is by far the worst. According to a press release from National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (UK) , the researchers focused on an area of 11 million square kilometers in the North East Atlantic where human activities are the most intense. Looking specifically at the physical footprint of activities, rather than the consequences of the activities, they found that considering munitions and chemical dumping, scientific research, telecommunications cables, and oil and gas drilling, bottom trawling still had a physical footprint ten times greater than any other activity assessed -- even greater than all the activities combined.
However, one of the biggest hurdles for the study was finding trustworthy information. "Some governments, public organisations and private companies were far more forthcoming with information than others," explained Benn. "Significant improvements are needed in data collection and availability, and this requirement needs to be built into international conventions and treaties with a legal framework in place to ensure informed environmental management."
The results of the study could change if a larger quantity and quality of information were to be accessed. Still, the study's look at bottom trawling shows that while human activities like oil and gas exploration tend to get a lot of media attention, there are far worse practices out there.
Thankfully, some countries have begun banning the harmful practice, including some South Pacific nations, parts of the Bering Sea, and parts of the waters off New Zealand. But it's a long way before the method is ended entirely.
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More on Bottom Trawling
Why a 400 Million-Year-Old Fish is a Compelling Reason to Protect the Oceans from Trawling
Picture worth 1000 Words Dept: Chinese Trawlers