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Vema Seamount in the south-east Atlantic teems with life, Greenpeace mission reports after exploration

Vema Seamount in the south-east Atlantic teems with life, Greenpeace mission reports after exploration

A seamount in the high seas but relatively close to Namibia’s exclusive economic zone has been found by a team of Greenpeace scientist to teem with marine life after it has received special protection status since 2006 when all demersal fishing was banned.

On its recent pole to pole tour, the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise stopped at the Vema Seamount which rises almost 5000 metres from the seabed to just 26 metres below the surface.

Vema is one of three seamounts in the south-east Atlantic in close proximity to Namibia and South Africa, All three mounts, Molloy, Vema and Wust, enjoy special fishing protection as part of the supervision of the South East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (SEAFO) to which Namibia, South Africa and Angola belong. The organisation is headquartered in Swakopmund.

SEAFO activities are guided by international conventions such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UN Fish Stocks Agreement and the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation’s International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas.

After the Vemo Seamount exploration, Greenpeace Africa Climate and Energy Campaigner, Bukelwa Nzimande said “We don’t need to look far to find the beauty we must protect: the bountiful marine life we have found is a sure sign that seamounts are unique wildlife hotspots, critical to the resilience and health of our oceans. It is this resilience that gives them a living chance in the face of the climate crisis, which they are directly impacted by.”

Greenpeace said its divers documented a kaleidoscope of underwater flora and fauna, including yellow-tailed mackerel, striped bream, various calcareous algae, soft coral, and crustacean species that thrive in these oceanic ecosystems, ideal for their similarity to coastal regions. Mount Vema’s upper slopes and plateaus are covered in soft corals, seaweed and kelp forests, teeming with life.

Singling out one species that has made a remarkable recovery, Greenpeace said “the population of Tristan Crayfish is of particular interest: having been fished to the brink of extinction twice in the past, divers observed dozens of the spiny lobsters on Mount Vema. The population is, therefore, showing signs of recovery; it is a testament to the resilience of the ocean and motivation to ensure that this resilience is safeguarded by multilateral protocols such as the Global Oceans Treaty.”

“Marine life in these unique areas are able to flourish and entire species recover, provided that the right measures are established and implemented. This is why the creation of ocean sanctuaries through an instrument like the Global Oceans Treaty is not only necessary, but critical. Current protections are insufficient and poorly implemented; we need real action to protect life in our oceans and further build resilience on a planet in crisis,” stated Nzimande.

“Abandoned fishing gear, known widely as ghost gear, poses a major threat to living worlds like those on Mount Vema, and Greenpeace has been campaigning for consistent measures against ghost gear pollution in the oceans. Lost or abandoned lobster cages, artefacts of destructive industrial overfishing, still threaten Vema’s wildlife. The team of divers onboard the Arctic Sunrise were able to retrieve one cage at a depth of about 35 metres – no longer in use, yet still a deadly trap for fish, crabs and other marine animals,” Greenpeace stated.

An estimated 640,000 tonnes of abandoned or lost fishing equipment, or ‘ghost gear’, enter the ocean every year, the equivalent in weight of more than 50 thousand double-decker buses. In total, they make up around 10% of the plastic waste in our oceans, entangling and killing marine life, according to a new report released by Greenpeace Germany.


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