A project exploring the benthic habitats of the continental shelf of West Greenland to examine the impact of the shrimp trawl fishery.
Fishing is a very important industry in Greenland, so ensuring long term sustainability is essential for both their economy and environment. The northern shrimp fishery of West Greenland is seeking certification of sustainability from the Marine Stewardship Council. As part of this process, researchers at ZSL, in partnership with the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, are independently assessing the impact of the fishery on the seabed habitats of the area.
The seabed of West Greenland is home to many amazing organisms as well as the commercially important northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis). There are sea cumbers burrowing in the mud, starfish and brittlestars crawling on the surface, the delicate lattice frameworks of bryozoans alongside corals and sponges, to name but a few.
We are documenting and measuring the diversity to compare with fishing activity at hundreds of stations from the southern tip of Greenland, up into the Arctic circle. With these data we will evaluate the impact of trawling on habitats in the region, and provide important evidence to assist in the conservation of these important habitats.
To date, we have taken more than a thousand images of the seabed of West Greenland using a benthic camera aboard the survey vessel M/T Paamiut. You can see some images from these surveys here (Greenland Benthic Images). Some of these images contain hundreds of organisms (our record is more than 600 individuals in one image!). To help us analyse these images we have been working with computer scientists at UCL to develop image processing software.
Surveys of the seabed and time consuming and expensive. We cannot hope to examine more that a small portion of the seabed. However, we can use the limited sampling to learn about the environmental requirements of important habitat forming species. We use these data to develop habitat suitability models to predict the distribution of key species to develop more comprehensive maps of the area.
Students have played an important role in our work. The following students projects have made a significant contribution to our work.
- Poppy Simon (MSc project 2013) "The effects of shrimp trawling on the macrobenthic fauna of West Greenland"
- Irina Chemshirova (Year in research 2013) "Impact of trawling on benthic marine organisms off the Greenlandic shelf, 200 to 600 meters depth"
- Irina Chemshirova (BSc project 2014) "Establishing historical baselines of benthic diversity and community composition, Western Greenland"
- Taylor Gorham (MSc project 2014) "Community composition of seabed habitats around Greenland: What is the impact of the shrimp fishery?"
- Lizzy Murphy (MSc project 2014) "Can we see the genetic fingerprint of fishing impact on the cold water corals of Western Greenland?"
- Chris Turner (MSc project 2014) "Creating a benthic habitat map for the West Greenland shelf"