Canada is known for its natural wonders, but some of the most amazing features are kilometres beneath the waves. A 16-day expedition, which launched from Sidney last Wednesday, will shed some light on seamounts: underwater mountains that teem with life.
Scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Haida Nation, Oceana Canada and Ocean Networks Canada are abord the E/V Nautilus, a state-of-the-art research vessel, to collect data on the physical features and ecosystems of these seamounts, which could include cold-water corals and sponges to Bocaccio (rockfish) and killer whales. The expedition is from July 5 to 21.
Robert Rangely, science director with Oceana Canada (a charity dedicated to rebuilding Canada’s fisheries) said these areas are valuable for ocean biodiversity, calling them “oases of the sea” which attract mobile species like rockfish, sablefish, halibut, “species that people know and are really important, some of which aren’t doing so well.”
Officially dubbed the Northeast Pacific Seamounts Expedition, scientists will explore three seamounts: Sgaan Kinghlas-Bowie, Dellwood and Explorer. They will establish long-term monitoring sites on SGaan Kinghlas-Bowie (already a Marine Protected Area), and for the first time, will use multibeam sonar to map Dellwood and Explorer Seamounts. That baseline data is the first step in potentially designating Dellwood and Explorer as Marine Protected Areas as well. They are in Canada’s Pacific Area of Interest, and contain hydrothermal vents and 87 per cent of known seamounts in Canada.
“These are islands of biodiversity in the deep ocean,” said Kim Juniper, chief scientist with Ocean Networks Canada (a UVic-affiliated not-for-profit that delivers ocean data through cabled observatories, robots and more). Juniper said Canada has an obligation under the Convention on Biological Diversity to set aside 10 per cent of its Exclusive Economic Zone before the end of 2020 as Marine Protected Areas, so the scientists are exploring potential sites to do just that.
“We can’t decide on boundaries or measures of protection until we’re better informed as to what’s there, where the organisms [are], where the biodiversity is concentrated…that’s what we’re going to find out,” said Juniper.
Located 180 kilometres offshore and to the west of Haida Gwaii, SGaan Kinghlas-Bowie Seamount extends 3,000 metres from the surrounding seafloor and reaches to just 24 metres below the sea’s surface. Juniper said he was also excited to work with the Haida Nation as partners in the expedition.
The three seamounts will be explored using two remotely operated vehicles, named Hercules and Argus. Argus is equipped with a manipulator arm, vacuum hose, high-definition cameras and other tools to bring samples to the surface and high-quality visuals to scientists and curious people across the globe. The arm is not controlled by a joystick, but rather a miniature version of the arm aboard the ship with all the same joints as the real thing.
Curious Canadians can watch daily livestreams and updates, and ask scientists questions about what they see. Alison Fundis, vice-president of marine operations and programs for Ocean Explorations Trust, said E/V Nautilus is capable of streaming HD video in real time via satellite to viewers on the internet.
“Not only will it be really exciting visually, you’ll get a glimpse of science in action,” said Rangely.