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Virtual expedition

Memorial partners with Dalhousie, NOAA on Gulf of Maine expedition

Research

By Jennifer Whyte

From today, World Oceans Day, until June 22, Canadians have the opportunity to explore the ocean with world-leading researchers in the Gulf of Maine.

Oceana Canada will broadcast the expedition in real time as researchers from both sides of the border explore rare habitats and species at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean.

Unique ecosystem

Scientists, researchers, students and technicians from Dalhousie University and Memorial University will lead the Canadian leg of the expedition, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Together with researchers from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), they will explore the unique Gulf of Maine ecosystem with the goal of discovering new species and habitats in need of protection.

A team of ocean technologists from the Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility will operate ROPOS, a best-in-class underwater robot, or remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

ROPOS
Visit oceana.ca/GulfofMaine for daily updates, including broadcast times and photos.
Photo: CSSF

The ROPOS will capture high-definition images and video of the sea floor, many of which will be viewed for the first time.

Oceana Canada will broadcast the expedition’s exploratory dives live.

Dr. Robert Rangeley, director of science, Oceana Canada, will participate in the expedition virtually from Halifax, N.S., using this cutting-edge technology.

“It is only by . . . working collaboratively with multiple institutions that we can better understand and protect our oceans.” — Josh Laughren

From there, he will help co-ordinate the expedition with onboard scientists, including Dr. Anna Metaxas, Dalhousie University; Dr. Paul Snelgrove, Memorial University; Dr. Peter Lawton, NSERC project collaborator, Fisheries and Oceans Canada; and Dr. Martha Nizinski, NOAA.

“We’re excited to be involved in this cross-border expedition with Canadian scientists as well as researchers at NOAA,” said Josh Laughren, executive director, Oceana Canada.

“It is only by researching ocean habitats through expeditions like this and working collaboratively with multiple institutions that we can better understand and protect our oceans. We’re also pleased to have this opportunity to share the process of discovery with Canadians.”

In the Northeast Channel Coral Conservation Area, the deep-water coral Primnoa resedaeformis is very common, providing habitat for the redfish Sebastes.
In the Northeast Channel Coral Conservation Area, the deep-water coral Primnoa resedaeformis is very common, providing habitat for the redfish Sebastes.
Photo: Anna Metaxas

Critical habitat

The Gulf of Maine is among the most diverse and complex marine ecosystems in the world.

Its powerful tides, combined with nutrients from bordering watersheds, creates an ecosystem that provides critical habitat for thousands of marine species. The canyons in the Gulf of Maine are home to several species of cold-water corals, which can grow several metres high and reach up to 1,000 years old.

These corals are essential to the overall health of the surrounding ecosystem since they provide habitat for many other marine species, including commercially important fish, shrimp and crabs.

Many of these canyons are considered vulnerable marine ecosystems, as several of the marine animals are at risk of extinction. Human activity, including overfishing and the use of destructive fishing gear, has had a profound impact on the Gulf of Maine, making research and protection critically important.

Bubblegum coral
Large colonies (some greater than two metres) of the bubblegum coral Paragorgia arborea on the walls of Corsair Canyon at a depth of 845 metres.
Photo: Anna Metaxas/Martha Nizinski

Canadian conservation targets

Some unique habitats and species in this area have already been explored, but research to understand others is just beginning.

The expedition will include surveys of unexplored areas, yet-to-be-named canyons and steep edges of the continental slope. Researchers will collect evidence on the Gulf of Maine’s seafloor to support Canada’s marine conservation targets.

“This is a continuation of a very successful and productive cross-border collaboration, based on the simple fact that animals do not recognize national borders.” — Dr. Anna Metaxas

A previous expedition to the Gulf of Maine in 2014 by the team has already led to the creation of new marine habitat conservation areas in 2016.

“This is a continuation of a very successful and productive cross-border collaboration that started in 2011, based on the simple fact that animals do not recognize national borders,” said Anna Metaxas, deep-sea biologist and oceanographer, Dalhousie University.

“As scientists, we recognize that if we are to understand the ecology and effectively protect species, we need to also see beyond these borders. The information on deep-water corals we collected in our previous cruise was directly applied by ocean managers. We hope to continue to provide scientific evidence that can be used for the design of an effective network of marine protected areas, as mandated by the Canadian government.”

Dr. Peter Lawton echoes the sentiment.

“For more than a decade, Anna Metaxas, Paul Snelgrove and I, along with marine science graduate students, have been able to bring sophisticated deep-water ocean survey technology to the region to explore marine areas that are of significant interest,” he said.

“That linkage has been further strengthened by our recent collaboration with U.S. governmental and academic scientists, leading up to this second joint mission.”

2017 action

For more than a decade, Oceana has been conducting expeditions around the world, exploring and protecting habitats off the coasts of Europe, the Philippines, Chile and the U.S. Oceana Canada is excited to bring this expertise and passion for ocean exploration to Canada in 2017.

Join Oceana Canada, Dalhousie University, Memorial University and NOAA this June for a journey into the wonders of Canada’s oceans. Visit the Oceana website for daily updates, including broadcast times and photos from the ship.


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