Throughout the world, there are over 100 000 designated protected areas covering a total area of 18.8 million kilometers square. Of these, marine environments constitute 1.64 million kilometers square, representing less than 0.5% of the global ocean surface. To date, only few deep-sea areas have been granted permanent protected status, often these areas contain focal species and habitats such as cold-water corals and hydrothermal vents (e.g. Endeavour Hydrothermal Vent Field, Canada) (See table here).
Some areas have been granted temporary protection against potentially damaging activities such as fishing, for example the NEAFC placed a two year restriction on fishing gear type at five Mid-Atlantic Ridge Seamounts on the 1st January 2005 (NEAFC). Unlike these complex habitats, the majority of the deep sea appears a relatively featureless expanse of sediment, lacking in focal species and habitats. This does not mean these areas are of lower conservation value; rather, some estimates place them amongst the most diverse habitats on earth.
The focal species approach is potentially a powerful tool for conservation. The rationale is that focal species may warrant conservation because they possess characteristics that identify them as functionally important, vulnerable or sensitive to disturbance. Cold-water corals meet many of these criteria and are now receiving considerable conservation focus. The immediate protection of sensitive areas such as cold-water coral ecosystems may be a first step to developing a network of protected areas throughout the oceans. Over the last few years, bottom trawling has been identified as one of the most significant threats facing cold-water corals. This has led to significant publicity and lobbying to ban bottom trawling in areas of coral habitat. At the time of writing in late 2006, High Seas bottom trawling had become a significant international issue tabled for discussion at the United Nations General Assembly (United Nations, Agenda of the 61st session of the General Assembly, 7th December 2006, A/60/251).