The Department of Biology at the Faculty of Science is organising a public lecture entitled 'Reports from the front line of the current mass extinction: fisheries and ecocide'.
The public lecture will be held on Wednesday 6 July from 17:00 to 18:00 in the New Biology Resource Room, Department of Biology.
The guest lecturer is Prof. Jason Hall Spencer Professor of Marine Biology at the School of Marine Science, Plymouth University, UK, and Tsukuba (Japan).
Attendance is free of charge. Those wishing to attend are kindly asked to contact Mr James Fenech, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Malta, by phone on +356 2340 2272 or by email.
Jason Hall Spencer writes:
'We are now well into the Anthropocene. Since the 1950s there has been a human population explosion with widespread coastal habitat damage exacerbated by our ever increasing use of hydrocarbon reserves. This talk uses case studies on inshore fisheries, deep-water coral reefs and a Mediterranean lionfish invasion to show that we have our work cut out if we are to achieve ‘Good Environmental Status’ anytime soon. But, if we are sensible, we can limit on-going damage.
'Within the past 100 years fishing using internal combustion engines has completely changed the ecology of coastal waters. In the UK, we now mainly import the marine life we eat and export what we are able to catch. Widespread use of diesel-thirsty dredges and trawls has damaged nursery areas and omogenized seabed habitats. We have also fished-down coastal food-webs, removing large long-lived fish (like cod and hake) to the benefit of invertebrates (like scallops and cuttlefish). Giant rays, sturgeon and halibut are now extinct over most of their preindustrial distribution. To make their fuel go farther, large Dutch beam trawlers are now using electricity to stun flatfish throughout the southern North Sea, with unknown effects on the ecosystem.
'Despite this marine ecocide, I am hopeful that we can turn things around, based on experience with cold-water coral reefs. These spectacular reefs, once thought to be restricted to the tropics, occur right up into the Arctic. Colleagues and I provided EU mandarins with evidence of the widespread damage caused by trawls in 2002, advocating the rapid development of towed gear closures to regenerate and protect vulnerable offshore marine ecosystems. Biogenic reefs are a priority for protection as they grow slowly and are easily smashed, yet they provide important habitat for a variety of fish. We worked with industry to design closures that limited displacement of fishing effort, as we did not want to increase damage to other sensitive habitat types or force fishermen further offshore, increasing fuel costs and CO2 emissions. Several High Seas and EU closures are now in force and satellite vessel tracking data indicate that they are working effectively, with good compliance by international fleets.
'A key solution to securing Good Environmental Status is obvious: reduce the footprint of the most destructive practices to allow recovery of coastal systems. This summer lionfish are starting to aggregate in Cyprus due to warming and the widening of the Suez canal it is in Malta’s interest to lobby for better biosecurity measures in the region and to mobilize the fishing and diving communities to clamp down on invasive species. Attention has recently turned to future proofing marine conservation efforts, given that the temperature, chemistry and biology of the oceans is changing rapidly (Brodie et al. 2014).
'We know we are causing the current planetary mass extinction – what survives will depend on how quickly we can reduce CO2 emissions and how sensible we are in protecting the resources we still have.'