9 November 2011
International – A six-week long sea journey commenced earlier this week for marine biologists and scientists traveling on the RSS James Cook in the southern area of the Indian Ocean.
The group of elite international scientists will be studying seamounts as the main focus of this mission; these are mountains found under the sea which rise 1,000 metres or over from the sea floor – the area of concentration for this study will be the southwest Indian Ocean Ridge.
This is the second such mission in the Seamounts Project to visit the underwater mountains in this particular area; the previous mission took place two years ago and discovered, among other finds, a previously-unknown species of squid. The current expedition is being led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with its Marine Programme Officer, Aurelie Spadone participating in the mission.
The chief scientist on the RSS James Cook, Alex Rogers from Oxford University, explained that seamounts act as oases for unique, deep-sea species and he said that the team anticipate determining a greater understanding of such species whilst investigating the many threats they encounter.
IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme Director, Carl Gustaf Lundin said that there is limited existing knowledge regarding the deep-sea marine life inhabiting seamounts; however, it appears this is slow-growing and slow to reproduce; therefore it is especially at risk from over-exploitation.
IUCN’s director stressed that seamount habitats are easily disturbed and damaged by human practices such as deep-sea bottom fishing and ‘bottom trawling’, which can cause irreversible harm to cold water animals, especially sponges and corals. It is hoped that this mission will provide scientists with ideas for means of protecting the seamounts’ endangered inhabitants.
Deep-sea fishing practices have multiplied seven-fold in the last 45 years due to reductions in shallower water fish stocks; it is known that trawling the sea floor, with the massive heavy nets habitually employed, impacts the ocean floor ecosystems.
The Seamounts Project is funded by the IUCN, The UK Natural Environment Research Council and the Global Environment Facility.
Source: Catherine Parker, PAB News ( http://www.pabnews.com/21529/deep-sea-mountaineering-expedition-embarks/ )