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December 17, 2014

Expeditions paying off in Kattegat


In October 2014, the Danish government published a new report – a plan for the Danish Nature. As a marine NGO, Oceana was of course highly interested in seeing how much the plan dealt with the marine environment, but it really was a pleasure to learn that the marine environment was not neglected in the report. One thing in particular, which Oceana has lobbied for since 2011, now appears in the plan; namely that the government will establish new marine protected areas (MPAs) in order to protect soft bottom habitats in Kattegat.

To properly explain our happiness with this promise from the Danish government, we have to go back and tell the full story of our dealings with the soft bottom habitats in Kattegat:

In 2011, Oceana opened an office in Copenhagen, aiming to work with the Baltic Sea and Kattegat. In April 2011 we headed out on our first expedition – a full two months at-sea expedition on the vessel Hanse Explorer, with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and professional divers as our main tools. We wanted to go and film places which were never been filmed before, or were poorly studied, and one of these places was the deep trench in Kattegat. We did several studies with the ROV in Kattegat trench, finding soft bottom habitats, including the rare Haploops and horsemussel communities, beautiful sea pens with burrowing megafauna, and unusual sponge aggregations. The latter was a species (Suberites virgultosus) which is found in more salty water, such as Skagerrak, so finding it in Kattegat was a surprise. The Haploops and horsemussels communities were known to have had a broader distribution range in Kattegat decades ago, based on old studies by Petersen. Since Petersen, only few studies were done in order to locate these two communities in Kattegat.  Therefore it came as a surprise that the Haploops and horsemussel communities still existed in Kattegat. Oceana published these findings in our first report for the region in 2011, and later we provided the Danish Nature Agency with the detailed information, some of which was included in Denmark’s basis analysis for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

Since then we have waited patiently for the Danish government’s outcome – will they protect soft bottom habitats or not? So finally we got a statement from the government – they will protect soft bottom habitats in Kattegat. However, we are still kept in the dark, as we haven’t heard which kind of soft bottom habitats will be protected. We hope that the government will protect all four habitats – they all deserve protection as each one of them is important for the ecosystem in their own way.  However, we fear that they can be destroyed by bottom trawling or other harmful activities.

 Action must be taken now, as some are already red-listed. Haploops communities are considered as being endangered by HELCOM, horsemussels as vulnerable, and sea pens with burrowing megafauna as endangered by HELCOM and threatened and/or declining by OSPAR.

Therefore, in the coming months we will keep a close eye on the process, encouraging the Danish government to be ambitious and to work for a better marine environment. We don’t have to remind the EU member states including Denmark, that they must secure a good environmental status by 2020 under the MSFD. Protecting soft bottom habitats would definitely be a step in the right direction!