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ZSL launches interactive fishing game empowering children to save marine wildlife

22 January 2019, at 3:41pm

Bubble-gum corals, skate fish and deep-sea water sponges are some of the vulnerable species children must avoid catching with their fishing nets while playing new game ‘Tricky Trawling’, launched by international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London).

Inspiring children about the incredible diversity of deep-sea habitats off the coasts of West Greenland, the game – created by scientists at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology and developers Octophin Digital – aims to inform children (aged 10-14 years old) about the impacts of unsustainable fishing practices such as seabed trawling in an informative but engaging way.

Casting their nets far and wide, players must attempt to catch fish out in the open ocean, while avoiding vulnerable seabed-dwelling creatures like octopus and skates in the fun game, which has a serious message behind it.

Highlighting the damage caused by bottom trawling – a specific method of fishing involving dragging a heavy net held open by ‘doors’ weighing several tonnes across the seabed, having limited control over what species are damaged or caught – the game demonstrates how improved technology such as upgrading fishing equipment with floating doors, can reduce negative impacts and help protect the environment.

Scientists at ZSL have been conducting research on the impact of trawling, on deep-sea habitats in Greenland since 2011, working with partners from the Greenland Institute for Natural Resources (GINR) and Sustainable Fisheries Greenland via European Union funding (BEST 2.0 Programme), advising fishers on more sustainable practices.

Dr Chris Yesson, Research Fellow at ZSL and creator of the game said: “The ‘Tricky Trawling’ game puts players in control of a fishing boat and a net, with the aim of collecting valuable fish on the seabed without damaging vulnerable habitats.

“Seafood products account for more than 80 percent of Greenland’s exports, so protecting vulnerable seabed habitats is vital for the ecosystem health and long-term sustainability of the fishing industry, but protection requires public awareness and support.

“We recognise that young people today are very aware of the impacts they have on the environment and are keen to minimise negative impacts as much as they can. We’re hoping this game will inspire them to influence the purchasing choices of the adults in their lives.

Many animals featured in the game like sponges and corals build delicate frameworks across the seafloor but because they’re stationary cannot escape the trawl path. Others such as Lophelia species – which are a group of deep-sea cold-water branching corals, are slow growers, with some estimated to be over 800 years old. This means they’re more vulnerable to trawling due to their slow recovery rates.

Dr Mona M. Fuhrmann, Postdoctoral Researcher at ZSL, who provided local knowledge and scientific input into the game said: “The deep-sea floor of West Greenland is full of interesting and diverse animals, but sadly has been extensively trawled over recent years. Coral habitats have been damaged and reduced by decades of trawling and it could take decades or longer for areas to recover, while some species may never fully recover.

“For example, bubblegum corals were once a relatively common sight in the area but are now difficult to find with deep-sea trawling likely the key cause of their decline.

“People can help the cause by playing the game and sharing what they have learnt with others, but also by buying locally sustainably sourced seafood – or simply asking the method of catch, avoiding bottom trawling.”

Kristina Guldbæk from Sustainable Fisheries Greenland (SFG), said. “Responsible fishers in Greenland are adopting conservation measures such as supporting marine protected areas and adapting lower impact fishing gear to support a healthy ocean, which is fundamental to the long-term stability of our industry. We hope this game will help foster greater interest in the beautiful and bountiful habitats of Greenland.”

Find out more about the work ZSL does in Greenland and play the game here.