News

Deep-sea expedition uncovers never-before-seen habitats and specimens in the Canadian Pacific region

IOC-UNESCO, 10.08.2022

The Northeast Pacific Deep-Sea Diversity Expedition 2022 returned to shore with new footage of underwater volcanoes, maps, and a large specimen collection following a three-week journey (7-28 June 2022) off the west coasts of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii, Canada.

Owing to the region’s uniquely small, active, and nearshore tectonic plates, the concentration of seamounts, hydrothermal vents, and cold seeps in the Canadian Pacific are globally rare biodiversity hotspots. The expedition – an official endorsed Ocean Decade Activity – aimed to discover, explore, and monitor these deep-sea ecosystems within several existing and proposed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), while enhancing public awareness of the incredible life and wonders hidden far below the waves.

Survey tools included ship-based multibeam, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), oceanographic sensors, floats, and equipment, an at-sea taxonomy laboratory, drones, and high-speed satellite internet for remote participation of shore-based science team members.

Thanks to this infrastructure, the team onboard surveyed ecosystem components from the surface to the seafloor; they also profiled and confirmed 8 seamounts, 4 of which are newly discovered. Furthermore, they came back with a diverse taxonomic collection of over 100 specimens that could possibly offer new species to science.

“As we voyage offshore the open ocean seems vast and desert-like, and sightings of large animals become scarce, but this completely changes as we approach a seamount. These hidden underwater mountains are refuges and homes for thousands of species,” said Cherisse Du Preez, head of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Deep-Sea Ecology program. She was also the lead scientist for deep-sea ecology on board the research vessel.  “Out there, there’s this island oasis where they get to exist away from us. We find corals and sponges and fish and sharks and octopus all living on the seamounts. If you’re going to protect a place in the ocean, why not protect where everything comes to feed or to nurture their young?”

Planned post-expedition processing includes mapping, oceanographic analyses, taxonomy (including DNA and eDNA analyses), video annotation, photo-mosaicing, and high-resolution 3D photogrammetry. These will all contribute to a better understanding of these remarkable and fragile deep-sea ecosystems (e.g., vulnerability to climate change, fishing, and seabed mining).

Beyond the scientific and discovery aspects of the expedition, one of the priorities was to widely communicate the science to a local and global audience. Online outreach events reached over 40 classrooms, the public, and scientists in 49 countries around the world. The livestream of the deep-sea footage allowed the team to interact with viewers and get real-time input from shore-based collaborators.

“The ability to connect with the world elevates the science we can accomplish on these expeditions,” said Du Preez.  “Our projects and thinking can expand far beyond the scientists physically onboard the ship. For example, the geological collections were directed in real-time by scientists on-shore over 5,600 km away.” She added, “Protecting the deep sea is an investment in global biodiversity but to be successful in the long run the movement needs public support. By sharing our live exploration we hope to close the distance between people and the wonderful world that is just out-of-sight in the deep sea.”

Watch the wrap video: https://youtu.be/W1sWGcGbIo4

And read more about the expedition here!

The Northeast Pacific Deep-Sea Diversity Expedition 2022 was a collaborative partnership between Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Council of the Haida Nation, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, and Ocean Networks Canada, with support from the endorsed Decade Programmes Challenger 150 and Seabed 2030.

 

Communications contact:
Sharon Rapose (s.rapose@unesco.org)

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About the Ocean Decade:

Proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (‘the Ocean Decade’) seeks to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development of this massive marine ecosystem. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a convening framework for scientists and stakeholders from diverse sectors to develop the scientific knowledge and the partnerships needed to accelerate and harness advances in ocean science to achieve a better understanding of the ocean system, and deliver science-based solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The UN General Assembly mandated UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) to coordinate the preparations and implementation of the Decade.