#DiepRespek shines a fresh light on vulnerable marine ecosystems

A rap video about vulnerable marine ecosystems is spreading quickly among fishing crews working in South Africa’s trawl fishery for hake.

Created by ecologist and filmmaker, Otto Whitehead, musician Walz and local lyricist KRO-BARZ, #DiepRespek, shines a fresh new light on the deep-sea environment and the need to protect seabed organisms from harm. It is being circulated among fishing crews via WhatsApp and is also available on YouTube.

Although many of South Africa’s deep-sea ecosystems have been identified and included in marine protected areas, the marine science and conservation community is working to ensure that vulnerable marine ecosystems that may not have been described yet are not damaged by fishing and seabed mining. SADSTIA supports this initiative because its members recognise that deep-sea ecosystems provide important feeding, reproductive, nursery and refuge areas for a high number of invertebrates and fish species. And, adequate protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems is an important condition of the trawl fishery’s certification by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Currently, scientific observers working on deep-sea trawlers, through the SADSTIA-funded observer programme, are required to weigh, identify and photograph all invertebrates caught in one trawl per day. The data collected by observers is contributing to the formulation of thresholds for the common groups of organisms that are found in the deep-sea environment. Eventually, these thresholds will lead to the development of “move on” rules that will ensure fishing does not continue in areas of high seabed biodiversity. Until such time as the thresholds are agreed and guidelines are adopted, fishing crews make use of precautionary, commonly accepted move-on rules similar to those in place for other regional bottom fisheries and informed by the vulnerable marine ecosystems working group.

Filmmaker Whitehead, hopes that #DiepRespek will help fishing crews to get to know the common groups of organisms that are found in the deep-sea environment, including hard and soft corals, sponges, sea pens and other invertebrates. With this knowledge, they will be better equipped to recognise and react if they are fishing in a vulnerable marine ecosystem.

#DiepRespek was produced by Kerry Sink, Lara Atkinson, Grant van der Heever and Otto Whitehead and was released through a collaboration between the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research at Nelson Mandela University, the South African National Biodiversity Institute, the South African Environmental Observation Network and the South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB). It features footage of the deep-sea environment collected by the African Coelacanth Environment Programme and SAIAB.