“North Sea now a bare desert but could be restored” say Dutch marine scientists

Nature Netherlands reports, 15th September 2014: “A ten-day research expedition in the North Sea has uncovered the underwater world in a mission to show people and politicians that there is more to the North Sea than previously thought. During the expedition, researchers were also surprised at several new discoveries, De Stentor reports.

“We know more about the moon than about our seas” says ocean expert Chris van Assen of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), who organized the ten-day expedition together with the Dive the North Sea Clean foundation.

The expedition aimed to map out the sea’s hidden ecosystems, and to return the public image of the North Sea back to one of nature as well as industry. “The North Sea is also the biggest nature area of The Netherlands”, Van Assen says. “Half of all the oxygen that we breathe in is produced by the oceans. We have to take care of them.”

The expedition did more than map the world of the deep. Divers discovered a type of hard coral on a ship wreck in the distant Dogger Bank, which has never been recorded in these waters before. It is believed to be the Devonshire cup-Coral. They also discovered honeycomb worms, which were previously thought extinct.


Devonshire Cup Coral, showing a close-up of the polyp.
Source: Flickr/James Lynott

These worms help to form hard reefs, just like the corals. This means that the North Sea might get its natural reefs back with a little help. Biologist Wouter Lengbeek thinks this could be a possibility. “The seabed is now a bare desert. Before, a third was covered with oyster beds, stones and pebbles. Such reefs attract plants and animals and offer them safe hiding places. They are the nesting areas, the motors of the North Sea.”

The shipwrecks that seem to have attracted the growth of these corals, then, should be kept, argue the organizers of the North Sea Expedition. “Wrecks are not only culturally historic heritage, they are also real hotspots for biodiversitybiodiversity Biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals.”, says Ben Stiefelhagen of Dive the North Sea Clean. “They function as mini-nature areas and can help to restore the richness of plant and animal life”, Stiefelhagen tells RTL Nieuws.

Source: Nature Netherlands, 15th September 2014. For the full text, see www.nltimes.nl/2014/09/15/hard-coral-discovered-deep-north-sea

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