Dash for gas must avoid deep-water ecosystems, warn conservationists
February 09 2011 Lewis Smith
Mediterranean deep-water shrimp Acanthephyra
Fragile communities of marine animals living on the sea floor could be devastated by a scramble to drill for gas in the Mediterranean, conservationists warn.
Cold water corals, crustaceans, molluscs, worms and sponges are among the creatures that inhabit the deep water seabed in the Eastern Mediterranean where huge gas reserves have been discovered.
Some of the animal communities, including ancient build-ups of coral, have existed for thousands of years but will be irreversibly damaged, the WWF fears.
“The deep-sea floor in the Levant is teeming with life of a very special and unique kind. WWF strongly condemns blind drilling on biodiversity hotspots that could cause irreversible damage,” said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.
“These unique marine ecosystems are particularly fragile, and vulnerable to external interference – they have evolved in a highly stable, low-energy environment which has led to the creation of exceptionally rare ecosystems.”
Reserves discovered 84 miles off the coast of Israel, the Leviathan gas field, represent the biggest deep water find in a decade and is estimated to hold 16 trillion cubic feet. Another discovery, the West Nile Delta gas field, is 50 miles north west of Alexandria in Egypt.
Both areas are regarded as being important for biodiversity. Bottom trawling has already been banned on the seabed over parts of the Leviathan field while the Nile Delta, where a “unique biological community” living on gas seeping up into the water is found, has already been subject to demands for extra protection.
The WWF is urging the industry and Mediterranean governments to ensure the most valuable ecosystems are safeguarded from attempts to reach and pump out the rich gas reserves. It is demanding: “Industrial development and drilling should be ruled out on deep-sea areas deemed to harbour the most valuable biological communities and unique species.”
Dr Tudela added: “Once a deep-sea community has been drilled through, it can take a millennium or more before the unique micro-ecosystem grows again – so the most fragile and valuable species and under-sea areas must be left untouched by gas development.”
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