October 18, 2017, 4:24 pm

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Go Deeper

The 2007 UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 61/105 and the supporting FAO International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas spurred both domestic and international deep-water coral research in the Western Atlantic and elsewhere. Recent research has focused on providing scientific advice to NAFO (Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization) for the protection of coral and sponges in the international waters east of Newfoundland (Flemish Cap, southwestern Grand Banks, Orphan Knoll, Beothuk Knoll). This has included the development of a coral identification guide for use at sea which has been translated into Russian, Danish and Greenlandic. Since 2005, our research team has led, or contributed crew to 15 benthic survey missions extending from the Northeast Channel (southwest of Nova Scotia) to eastern Greenland. This work has been rewarding as in 2009 NAFO closed 11 areas within its fishing footprint to protect sea pens, sponges and gorgonian corals.

As part of these efforts a research project led by Spain, in partnership with other NAFO member nations including Canada, the United Kingdom and Russia, was conducted over 2 years (2009 and 2010) in the NAFO regulatory area (NRA). The NEREIDA (NAFO Potential Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems – Impacts of Deep-Sea Fisheries) multidisciplenary surveys were conducted primarily aboard the RV Miguel Oliver (S.G.M.) with two surveys contributed to by the CCGS Hudson. Multibeam bathymetric data, seismic data collected using TOPAZ, sediment data (grain size and carbon content) from cores and CTD data complement biological data collected in rock dredges, box cores and from in situ photographic and video surveys. Our lab has lead the Hudson-NEREIDA missions and in 2010 worked with the Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Science (ROPOS) submersible to sample to depths of 3000m along the slopes of Flemish Cap and on Orphan Knoll. The photographic surveys had multiple objectives but foremost were to validate data collected from the research vessel trawl surveys used to establish the NAFO closed areas and to collect baseline data from outside the fishing footprint in areas where exploratory fisheries could one day be conducted. The ability to collect high resolution imagery and biological specimens from these depths made for an exciting mission, with a number of potentially new species to science. Our lab has been collecting genetic data from some of these to assist in their identification and ultimately to contribute to the Barcode of Life initiative. Click here to view a blog describing the 2010 CCGS Hudson 029 mission to the Flemish Cap and Orphan Knoll. While at sea live imagery was fed to the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, to The Rooms in St. John’s Newfoundland and to the auditorium at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, allowing the public to engage in our research.

While current activities are focused on the Flemish Cap in the NAFO Regulatory Area we plan to extend our work in the eastern Arctic through collaboration with scientists from DFOs Central and Arctic Division, Greenland, Denmark and Germany. Our longer-term goal is to elucidate the processes which control the distribution of deep-water corals and sponges in the North Atlantic and to learn more about their role in marine ecosystems both as structural habitat and foci for biodiversity.