For many, the natural world is just an unavoidable inconvenience: a fly buzzing about your ear; a crow screeching. Indeed, this perception of nature is highly virulent in built-up areas, where the void between production and consumption continues to widen. As a result, the link between economic prosperity and natural resources is a difficult one to comprehend. For these urbanites then, “nature” can be consumed in small manageable chunks, with a distinct separation drawn between the natural world and the urban cityscape. Within these allotted interactions, the wonder of plants and animals can be briefly appreciated, before returning to the “real world” of urbanisation. But through compartmentalising nature in this way, we draw disproportionate attention to occasions when allotted nature is disturbed: wind farms, the breeding programmes of giraffe in Denmark, and the culling of badgers, are particularly telling examples of the way in which proximate nature draws environmental concern away from genuine problems. Perhaps the way to attract support for key environmental problems is to consistently wonder at the natural world in its entirety? Or emphasise beauty in places associated with significant environmental damage?
In the depths of the ocean, a whole multitude of organisms have thrived for millions of years. Interestingly, animals at this depth have a longevity which can far exceed even that of the tortoise, most likely due to reduced rates of predation and a dramatically slowed metabolism. One such species, the rougheye rockfish, is particularly long-lived, and has been known to survive to the staggering age of 205 (Roberts, 2002). But at the depth of the rougheye rockfish, marine animals face an unfortunate challenge: the deep-sea trawler. As massive nets weighing as much as a tonne are dragged along the sea-floor, slow growing coral is torn up and irreparably damaged. Unbelievable swathes of marine habitat are subsequently destroyed, with 10 day excursions damaging 100km² of ocean floor (Davies, 2007).
But protection of these deep-sea corals and the animals they support can be achieved: In 1999, the Norwegian government took the decision to protect all their deep-sea coral; and in 2000, the Australian government voted to protect 12 Tasmanian seamounts (Davies, 2007; Roberts, 2002). In the European Union however, prospects don’t look so good. On December 10th 2013, after extensive debating in the European Parliament, and a campaign gathering over 780,000 signatures, a ban on deep-sea trawling was rejected (Harrington, 2014). Rather than the total ban environmental organisations recommended, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) was presented with a compromise: a ban on trawling in marine ecosystems already severely damaged – hardly sufficient to protect habitats currently under exploitation.
In the case of deep-sea trawling, the beauty and wonder of the rougheye rockfish does not possess the proximity of a giraffe or badger, or the blatancy of a wind-farm, but wouldn’t it be great if we could treat it like it did? Wouldn’t it be great if we could get just as riled about the loss of awesome longevity, as we do about small and furry cuteness? Perhaps then we would have a new form of environmental leverage to propel the movement into the 21st Century.
Davies, A. J., Roberts, J. M. and Hall-Spencer, J. (2007) ‘Preserving deep-sea natural heritage: Emerging issues in offshore conservation and management’, Biological Conservation, 138(3-4), 299-312.
Harrington, R., Fischer, C., Miles, E.,Hunt, A. 2014. MEPs fail to agree on a phase-out of destructive fishing practises in the deep. Marine Conservation Society, 4.
Roberts, C. M. (2002) ‘Deep impact: the rising toll of fishing in the deep sea’, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 17(5), 242-245.
Image from https://www.nwac.ca/home/policy-areas/environment/