May 10, 2019

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CALIFORNIA COAST, UNITED STATES (May 14, 2019) – Deep below the ocean’s surface, not far from the beautiful beaches of the California coast, where millions sunbathe, surf, and enjoy the majesty and tranquility of the sea, lies a world of underwater mountains, volcanoes and ancient islands called seamounts. These seamounts provide a home to biologically important treasures critical to the health of the ocean. Although virtually unknown to the Golden State’s nearly 40 million residents, the seamounts are home to creatures like the endangered blue and gray whales and sperm whales, sharks, rare deep‐sea corals that take hundreds of years to grow, and seabirds hunting high overhead for fish that aggregate near the seamounts. Unfortunately, the dozens of vibrant seamounts along California’s coast and across the globe face a risky future due to potential deepsea trawling, ocean warming and acidification, offshore drilling, and the rise of deep-sea mining, a practice that extracts minerals from the seamounts and seabed.

Mission Blue has declared the California seamounts a Hope Spot in recognition of the immense biological value they possess and the need for long-term protection from unsustainable practices including oil and gas development, destructive fishing methods and the possibility of deep-sea mining.

Map of seamounts

The announcement will take place on Tuesday, May 14th, 2019, at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, California from 5:00-7:00 pm. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, a world famous ocean explorer recognized by National Geographic, and former chief scientist for NOAA, will deliver the keynote remarks. The California Seamounts Hope Spot is championed by the California Seamount Coalition in conjunction with Marine Conservation Institute. International experts Kristina Gjerde from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Matt Gianni from the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition will join Mission Blue and Marine Conservation Institute in calling for long-term protection of these hotspots of biological diversity and mostly untouched ecosystems.

Bright pink hydrocorals (Stylaster californicus) and squarespot rockfish (Sebastes hopkinsi) cover the seascape at Tanner Bank. (c) NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center

Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue highlights the need for protecting these seamounts, “The rationale for exploiting fish, oil and gas, and minerals in the deep sea is based on their perceived current monetary value. But the living systems that will be destroyed by these activities are perceived to have no monetary value. Will decisions about use of the natural world continue to be based on the financial advantage for a small number of people despite risks to systems that underpin planetary stability – systems that support human survival?”

A sea anemone, bearing a striking resemblance to a Venus flytrap, on the Davidson Seamount off California. (c) NOAA and MBARI

Hope Spot Champion Lance Morgan says, “Californians love and celebrate their coast. Spending a day at the beach with their families, having their senses come alive to the sounds and smells of the ocean, and watching colorful marine life in tide pools is a wonderful way to relax. Little do beachgoers know that the California coast used to be much further offshore, and the seamounts are not just biodiversity hotspots, but ancient islands. We want to bring greater awareness to these wonderful places and let everyone know the diversity of life these places house.”

Yellow Picasso sponge and white sponges (c) NOAA and MBARI

Although more research needs to be conducted to fully understand the life that lives among the California seamounts, scientists have identified approximately 60 different seamounts, each with its own features and marine life. Some seamounts serve as ‘fueling stations’ for migratory species including endangered sperm whales and sea turtles, seabirds and sharks. The deep-sea corals and anemones that form living habitats on them are fragile, uniquely adapted to live extremely long lives (100’s of years or more), and slow to reproduce. These characteristics make them vulnerable to human impacts and deserving of protection.

A gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) and her calf, one of the many marine mammal species that use the productive waters above Cortes and Tanner Banks to feed or reproduce. (c) NOAA

Other deep-sea areas off the California coast include the hydrothermal vents on Gorda Ridge that shoot water more than three times hotter than boiling water rich with minerals into the deep ocean. Cold methane seeps on the ridges support other diverse and rare ecosystems. Samuel Georgian, Marine Biogeographer at Marine Conservation Institute, says, Hydrothermal vents support incredible deep-sea ecosystems that form entire worlds of rare deep-sea species living off the heat and minerals released into the water.”

Tubeworms cover a deep-sea hydrothermal vent near the Galápagos Islands. (c) NOAA

While early mineral leases for Gorda Ridge were abandoned due to a lack of technology and low commodity prices, renewed interest in deep-sea mining means that these sites may be targeted in the future. It is critical to enact strong protections to safeguard the unique and diverse ecosystems found on the Gorda and Mendocino Ridges before they are destroyed by deep-sea mining or other man-made disturbances.

Dr. Morgan continues, “Just as we protect the special mountain environments of the Rockies and the Sierras… Just as we have created parks to protect Yosemite Valley, and Giant Redwoods, we must act to protect the great mountains underneath the surface of the ocean and the coral forests that live on them. The ocean and its life – whether we can see it from the beach or not – is a wonderful creation, and it is our responsibility to be a good steward and protect those things we have been given.”

About Mission Blue

Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – Hope Spots. Mission Blue embarks on regular oceanic expeditions that shed light on these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection. Mission Blue also supports the work of conservation NGOs around the world that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection. The Mission Blue alliance includes more than 200 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations.

About Marine Conservation Institute

Marine Conservation Institute is a team of highly experienced marine scientists and environmental policy advocates dedicated to saving ocean life for us, and future generations. Marine Conservation Institute cofounded the California Seamount Coalition to protect deep-sea ecosystems. The organization is creating urgently needed worldwide system of strongly protected areas—the Global Ocean Refuge System—as a strategic way to ensure the future diversity and abundance of marine life. To enhance marine protection efforts around the globe, we also report on MPA coverage through our Atlas of Marine Protection.

About California Seamount Coalition

Marine Conservation Institute is a co-founder of the California Seamount Coalition along with Surfrider Foundation and Wildcoast and fifteen other groups. Scientists estimate that there are nearly 60 seamounts in the offshore waters of California and that they are at increasing risk from the threat of industrialization from oil and gas development as well as future mineral mining. The California Seamount Coalition is bringing awareness to these biodiverse, underwater treasures and working to secure their long-term, permanent protection from activities that might harm them.

For more information visit www.CaliforniaSeamounts.org 

For video and pictures of some of the California Seamounts, see www.CaliforniaSeamounts.org/gallery

The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Hercules explores the San Juan Seamount. (c) Ocean Exploration Trust

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