Cold-water coral reefs are synonymous with high biodiversity. The complex three dimensional reef structures can support many thousands of species, including some commercial fish species. Competitive fishing activity and over-fished shallow-water stocks have driven the fishing industry to target deep-sea fish species. Unfortunately, some vessels use heavy bottom trawling gear which can damage the seabed, physically damaging reefs and animal communities that once thrived.
Only a little is known about the growth, reproduction and ultimately the recovery of cold-water coral reefs. Some scientists state that any damage occurring now may take many hundreds, if not thousands, of years to recover. Cold-water coral reefs are very sensitive to disturbance and breakage, highlighted by the heavily fished areas of the Tasman Sea Rise which has an estimated loss of 95-98% of coral cover, providing little hope of a significant recovery anytime soon.
The destructive damage may not stop with fishing. At the same time, oil and gas companies are being granted permission to prospect for oil and gas in increasingly deeper waters. These activities may damage the reef by unleashing pollutants, physically damaging the reef or releasing clouds of sediments, thereby smothering the reef. See our section on 'Threats' for more information.