Unique data collected on Indian Ocean seamounts

29 July 2010 | News story

Within the framework of its Seamounts Project funded by the Global Environment Facility, IUCN, in collaboration with many partners, organized a survey of seamounts in the international waters of the southern Indian Ocean.

The study was carried out on the Norwegian research ship Dr Fridtjof Nansen last year, from November to the end of December 2009, and represents the first comprehensive biological survey ever conducted on the ecosystems associated with these underwater mountains.

View photos of some of the species found during the cruise:

View slideshow

Over 40 days, a team of the world’s leading marine experts, paired with scientists from the Western Indian Ocean region, travelled 6,000 miles to sample the rich marine life above five seamounts of the South West Indian Ocean Ridge (SWIOR) and one seamount further north at Walters Shoal. The scientists, from a range of expertise including acoustics, physical oceanography, and biology of phytoplankton, zooplankton, fish and seabirds, returned with a wealth of unique data and specimens. Nearly 7,000 samples were gathered and labeled, including an unexpected diversity of fish, shrimps, squids and gelatinous marine creatures. Many more samples of phytoplankton and zooplankton, representing the base of the ocean food chain, nutrients, isotopes and particulate organic matter were also collected. Thousands of seabirds from as many as 36 species and 26 marine mammals were seen during the expedition.

Seamounts, underwater mountains of volcanic and tectonic origin, are known to be hotpots of biodiversity and attract a range of oceanic predators, including seabirds, whales and sharks. They also attract deepwater fisheries, as they host many species of commercial interest, most of which are very vulnerable to over-exploitation. Preliminary results show that the six seamounts surveyed are very different from each other. The results should help improve knowledge and understanding of seamount ecosystems globally.

A scientific workshop, including research cruise participants and local scientists as well as renowned experts, is planned to take place towards the end of 2010 to identify the species that were not identified during the cruise and carry out analyses of the collected samples. In addition to the species that have been recorded for the first time in the region, we hope to have found some species that are new to science.

The results of the research will not only have a scientific interest, but will directly feed into recommendations to help improve conservation and management of Indian Ocean marine resources. More generally, this process will inform future management of deep-sea ecosystems in the high seas globally.

The expedition would not have been possible without the support of expertise and funding provided by our partner organizations, including the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the EAF-Nansen Project (executed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation [FAO]), the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (IMR), the Agulhas and Somali Current Large Marine Ecosystems (ASCLME) Project, the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Progarmme (ACEP), the Marine Ecology laboratory of Reunion University (ECOMAR) and the Southern Indian Ocean Deepsea Fishers Association (SIODFA).

For more information, please visit:
- the project website
- the cruise blog
- the cruise diary, BBC Earth News

This article will also appear in the IUCN Global Marine Programme newsletter GMP News, out soon.