With the discovery of new ancient and fragile coral forests and potentially new species from an expedition to seamounts off the coast of British Columbia, Oceana Canada is calling for permanent protection of these important biodiversity hotspots.
This 16-day, 2,500 km expedition also discovered six new seamounts while observing an incredible abundance and diversity of marine life. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Haida Nation, Oceana Canada, and Ocean Networks Canada partnered on this expedition aboard the Ocean Exploration Trust’s EV Nautilus.
“Enough was known about the seamount range before this expedition to justify protecting them, and with these discoveries the conservation value is even greater,” said Dr. Robert Rangeley, Science Director, Oceana Canada. “We need to protect special places that provide refuge for marine life and strengthen ecosystem resilience in our increasingly threatened oceans.”
The mapping and increased understanding of 13 seamounts, coupled with the discovery of the six new seamounts, is highly significant. The newly mapped areas revealed that there is more living space for species like coral and sponges which create important habitat structure. These ecosystems are important for maintaining biodiversity in the ocean and contribute greatly to its health.
“What we saw underwater was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The remotely operated vehicle allowed us to explore thousands of metres into the dark ocean depths,” said Rangeley. “When we reached a seamount, it was often like we were entering a forest, only of red tree corals and vase-shaped glass sponges. These areas were filled with a diversity of other animals including anemones, feather stars, octopuses, lobsters and rockfishes.”
He adds what he saw through the live camera made him truly appreciate the special nature of seamounts. “I wonder how many more of these fragile forests exist in the ocean, in unexplored regions?” said Rangeley. “It is clear the best way to manage these biodiversity hotspots is to close all Canadian seamounts to bottom contact activities.”
The expedition team also found lost fishing lines on the seafloor, which entangles marine life and destroys fragile and slow growing corals and sponges. Seamounts are often targeted by fishing vessels because they attract an abundance of fish, and lost fishing gear can continue to damage habitats for decades. Scientists and ocean conservationists have long raised the seriousness of this problem. Just outside of Canadian waters, seamounts adjacent to the ones explored in this expedition have been heavily impacted and are still being fished.
Rangeley explains that the partners’ commitment to the common goal of learning more about seamounts to inform protection measures was the key to the team’s success. “Each partner had incredible deep-sea experts on board and each person shared their knowledge of marine life along with other experts on shore who we connected with through online platforms. This collaborative effort helped us identify new species and expand our understanding,” said Rangeley. “The data hasn’t been formally analyzed yet, but it is already clear that the expedition produced important and fascinating results.”
In addition to the collaborative science contributions, the onboard scientists and educators provided live commentary about the beautiful imagery and marine life on seamounts to online viewers. They connected from ship-to-shore almost every day, talking with students, summer camps and the general public on Facebook Live to share the wonders of the ocean with the world. Photographs and videos from the seamounts can be seen at Oceana.ca/Seamounts.
The data collected on Oceana Canada’s collaborative expeditions helps inform how to best protect the oceans in Canada. Oceana Canada campaigns for the protection of ecologically important habitat for the health of the oceans, the recovery of depleted fish populations, and to support coastal communities that depend on abundant marine ecosystems.
For more information, please contact: Kara-Ann Miel, Communications Director, Oceana Canada, 647-535-6326, firstname.lastname@example.org
Oceana Canada was established as an independent charity in 2015 and is part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Canada has the longest coastline in the world, with an ocean surface area of 7.1 million square kilometres, or 70% of its landmass. Oceana Canada believes that Canada has a national and global obligation to manage our natural resources responsibly and help ensure a sustainable source of protein for the world’s growing population. Oceana Canada works with civil society, academics, fishers, Indigenous Peoples and the federal government to return Canada’s formerly vibrant oceans to health and abundance. By restoring Canada’s oceans, we can strengthen our communities, reap greater economic and nutritional benefits, and protect our future.