The Coral Reefs of the High Seas Coalition is a multidisciplinary alliance of partners that aims to generate the science, strategic communication, and support that is necessary to conserve coral reefs in areas beyond national jurisdiction. To date, the coalition has mostly focused its efforts on high seas surrounding the Salas y Gómez and Nazca ridges, two seamount chains that stretch across over 2,900 km in the Southeastern Pacific. Isolated by the Humboldt Current and the Atacama Trench, this region is home to one of the most unique collections of biodiversity on Earth. For many groups of organisms, nearly half of the species are endemic to the region and found nowhere else on our planet. Not only is this region a biodiversity hotspot, it is also culturally significant as Polynesian and others have recognized its importance for centuries.
Last year the coalition published several scientific studies that highlight the natural and cultural significance of the Salas y Gómez and Nazca ridges, including:
- A comprehensive review of the scientific rationale and policy recommendations for protecting the ridges, which summarizes information from close to 250 studies that have been conducted in this region, as well as over 10 years of fishing and vessel traffic data.
- A review of the maritime heritage and cultural significance of the Salas y Gómez & Nazca ridges, which synthesizes information on the 1,000-year old human history of seafaring across the ridges, as well as provides practical recommendations on how this information should be integrated into the design and eventual management of a protected area.
- A review of various global datasets on biodiversity and human use, which shows that the Salas y Gómez and Nazca ridges are one of the most promising places to protect on the high seas globally.
- Deep-water surveys conducted on both ends of these ridges, which recorded over 120 species, many of which are extremely fragile or not known to exist anywhere else on Earth.
- Deep-water surveys of seamount communities of the Nazca Ridge, which recorded 118 benthic organisms and showed that these environments are still relatively pristine.
- Habitat suitability models for deep-water corals and sponges, which show that these habitat-forming species are widespread across the Salas y Gómez and Nazca ridges.
- Surveys of back coral gardens found on the Salas y Gómez Ridge, which included some of the densest aggregations ever reported for these types of corals, and were shown to provide critical habitat for a wide variety of fishes and invertebrates.
- Descriptions of the complete mitochondrial genomes of two black corals from the Salas y Gómez Ridge, which have potential implications for future biomedical research.
Collectively, these scientific assessments underscore the importance of protecting the high seas surrounding the Salas y Gomez & Nazca ridges, which represent the largest and most threatened portion of the ridges. This could be achieved by:
- closing this region to industrial fishing activities regulated by the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission;
- closing the region to seabed mining activities regulated by the International Seabed Authority; and
- establishing a high seas marine protected area once the United Nations Agreement on Marine Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction is finalized and comes into force.
For more information visit www.coralreefshighseas.org.