AUG 19, 2019 02:53 PM PDT

Hawaiian Seamounts Recovering, Thanks to 40 Years of Protection

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

After 40 years of federal protection, a seamount coral community in Hawaii is showing signs of recovery. The Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain was heavily fished from the 1960s to the 1980s which, according to the research article published in Science Advances earlier this month, resulted in “the largest amount of fish and invertebrate biomass removed from any documented seamount fishery in the world.” The article states the trawling removed up to 210,000 metric tons of fishes per year and coral tangle net fishing removed up to 200,000 metric tons of deep-sea corals yearly. In addition to the removal of biomass, these fishing practices cause lasting damage to the seafloor.

Scientists from Florida State University and Texas A&M University aimed to evaluate if the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain was able to recover after gaining federal protection from human disturbances in 1977. In a news release from FSU, lead researcher and FSU Professor of Oceanography Amy Baco-Taylor stated, “People started realizing how vulnerable seamounts were relatively recently, so seamounts in other locations have only been protected for 5 to 15 years.” She considers examining the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount chain a unique opportunity to what 40 years of protection looks like.

The team took four research cruises to the central and north Pacific Ocean and used both autonomous and human-manned submersibles to examine and photograph seamounts to depths of up to 700 meters underwater. According to the research article, the analysis of 536,000 images showed remaining scars from trawling, including “vast areas of barren substrate scarred by bottom-contact gear, coral rubble, coral stumps, and lost fishing gear.” Of the sites that they classified as “still trawled” up to 25% of them still had scarred substrate.

Example images of adverse impacts of fisheries on seamount deep-sea coral communities (Science Advances)

Perhaps most importantly, the evidence of recovery shown in their analysis included corals growing over trawl marks, regrowth of a precious and a reef-building coral, and coral regrowth on nets that had settled onto the seafloor. Additionally, they discovered regions of the seamount that were not damaged by trawling. Baco-Taylor told FSU reporters, “this is a good story of how long-term protection allows for recovery of a vulnerable species.”

Example images of recovering assemblages on the Recovering Seamounts (Science Advances)

The research article concludes that these recovering communities are fragile and that any further impact could limit their recovery. They recommend that long-term or permanent closure is needed for significant recovery of these ecosystems.

Brendan Roarke, researcher and associate professor at Texas A&M, considers this study critical for policymakers and scientists working to determine the effectiveness of protecting areas such as this seamount region. He said, “this is a high impact paper that bears directly on fishery management issues in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and is timely relative to some changes the current administration is thinking about with respect to opening up marine monuments for more fishing.”

Sources: Science Advances, FSU

About the Author
  • Enthusiastic science geek passionate about wildlife, wild places, and environmental issues. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, Tiffany hopes to educate and inspire the public to protect our planet.
You May Also Like
SEP 16, 2019
Plants & Animals
SEP 16, 2019
Have You Ever Seen a Polar Bear Go 'Porpoising' Before?
Porpoising is a type of swimming technique used by several different underwater mammals, including dolphins, porpoises, and whales. The method involves adv...
SEP 16, 2019
Plants & Animals
SEP 16, 2019
Watch Animal Experts As They Tend to a Malnourished Juvenile Hawk
After a woman reported an oddly-behaving hawk in her yard, the New Hampshire Fish and Game department responded to the call. Upon coming in contact with th...
SEP 16, 2019
Plants & Animals
SEP 16, 2019
Why Are Shark Attacks on the Rise in Western Australia?
Many shark experts will tell you that shark attacks on humans are exceedingly rare and that sharks hardly want to interfere with humans because we aren&rsq...
SEP 16, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
SEP 16, 2019
Irish Teen Removes Microplastics From Water, Wins Google Science Fair
A new invention that removes microplastics from water was designed by 18-year-old Fionn Ferreira -- winner of the Google Science Fair....
SEP 16, 2019
Microbiology
SEP 16, 2019
A Microbe That Makes Methane From Oil is Found in the Gulf of Mexico
Archaea occupy their own branch on the tree of life and exist in some of the most extreme environments on the planet....
SEP 16, 2019
Earth & The Environment
SEP 16, 2019
Get ready for it to be hotter and drier
New research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) highlights a recently discovered feedback mechanism that is going to make...
Loading Comments...