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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Scotland's "Great Barrier Reef" given EU protection
Yesterday, EU Fisheries Ministers agreed to give permanent protection to Scotland's unique cold water coral reefs, the Darwin mounds by banning deepwater bottom trawling in the area.

This ban delivers a promise first made by Margaret Beckett, UK Secretary of State for the Environment made in October 2001, and has been welcomed by WWF-Scotland, who have spent the past 3 years highlighting the damage deep-water trawlers cause to the reef, as they dredge over huge areas of seabed.

Helen McLachlan, Marine Policy Officer for WWF Scotland said "We welcome the protection of this incredible piece of Scottish marine life - a beautiful deepwater habitat rich in wildlife such as sponges, starfish, and deepwater fish. This is our equivalent of the Great Barrier Reef and it was vital that it was protected before it was destroyed forever by deep water trawling".

"Up close the Darwin Mounds, off the Scottish coast, are as beautiful and rich in marine life as the Great Barrier Reef in Australian waters. Thankfully these ancient + fragile coral mounds that have taken thousands of years to grow, have been saved from further destruction with the banning of deep water trawling. We welcome this decision as the first real commitment by Member States to reduce the impacts that fisheries have on our marine environment."

Only discovered in 1998, the Darwin Mounds are a unique collection of cold-water coral mounds (Lophelia pertusa) at a depth of 1000 metres and about 185km northwest of Scotland. They are made up of hundreds of coral reefs up to 5m (16ft) high and 100m (328 ft) wide covering an area of approximately 100 sq km. The reefs support a wide diversity of marine life, such as sponges, starfish, sea urchins, crabs and deep-sea fish including the blue ling, round-nosed grenadier and the orange roughy.

There appear to be rather few photographs of this reef on the web, but the best pictures I could find were taken by Jan Helge Fossa, and accompany this old BBC story.