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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fantastic finds in International Union for Conservation of Nature Seamounts expedition

A team of the world's leading marine experts have returned from a six-week research mission above the seamounts in the Indian Ocean with amazing new discoveries.

The scientific survey was organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to examine eco-systems around underwater mountains and volcanoes.

Known to be hotpots of biodiversity, seamounts attract a range of oceanic predators, including seabirds, whales and sharks.

“I am extremely pleased with the data that we have collected and the number of species that we have encountered," said Dr Alex David Rogers, Chief Scientist of the Cruise and Senior Research Fellow at the Zoological Society of London.

“The diversity of species that we sampled is higher than what I would have expected. Some species have been recorded for the first time in the region, and we hope to have found some species new to science.

It was also very interesting to discover that the six seamounts we surveyed are very different from each other, and I believe our findings will certainly improve our global knowledge of seamount ecosystems."

The Norwegian research vessel Dr Fridtjof Nansen left on 12 November from Reunion island, and travelled 6,000 miles in 40 days to study five seamounts on the southwest Indian Ocean Ridge, and one seamount further north on Walters Shoal, south of Madagascar (read blog and diary here).

“It is gratifying to know that this work is not an isolated scientific trip, but will directly feed into conservation and management recommendations,” said Sarah Gotheil, Programme Officer with IUCN's Global Marine Programme.

“Through our study we hope to confirm the conservation benefits of protecting seamount features on the ridge. This will inform future management of deep-sea ecosystems in the high seas globally”.

In total, nearly 7,000 specimens have been collected and labeled, from two-metre long fish to tiny crustacean larvae. They include an impressive variety of fish, shrimps, squids and gelatinous marine creatures. Many more microscopic species of phytoplankton and zooplankton, representing the base of the food chain in the ocean, have also been collected.

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