Exploring the deep seafloor

by ZSL on

A team of marine scientists and conservationists from ZSL are embarking on a two week research cruise to West Greenland to explore the sea bottom in areas of shrimp fishery.

Together with scientists from the Institute of Natural Resources in NUUK they will investigate how past and future trawling will impact the sea bed and the organisms inhabiting this deep cold habitat, as ZSL's Dr. Chris Yesson explains. 

Sea anemone and starfish
Sea anemone and starfish

Last year we found some large fragile sea pens (Umbellula) in the area. The seafloor of West Greenland is home to many amazing organisms, which are adapted to the harsh (but stable) environments they live in, such as low temperatures, high pressure, limited light and food supply. There are sea cumbers burrowing in the mud, starfish and brittlestars crawling on the surface, the delicate lattice frameworks of bryozoans alongside sponges, to name but a few.

Also cold water corals are known from the area, with a similar function as their tropical relatives, providing shelter and feeding grounds for a large number of invertebrates and fish. These habitats are biodiversity hotspots and are especially vulnerable to bottom trawling because of their fragile nature. 

Combining different imaging techniques using still and video cameras with sampling of animals and bycatch from shrimp trawls, we will assess biodiversity and distribution of benthic communities along the Greenland shelf. 

High biodiversity with moss animals, feather stars, brittle stars, sponges and sea squirts
High biodiversity with moss animals, feather stars, brittle stars, sponges and sea squirts

We will start in Nuuk and then head up as far north as the sea ice allows us to go, the danger of getting stuck in the pack ice or hit by an iceberg is real. I've participated in previous  expeditions to Greenland, where an iceberg hit the ship and damaged the vessel. 

Historical sea bed images reaching back to the 1970s allow us to investigate change in benthic communities and the long term impact of trawling. 

The West Greenland Coldwater Prawn Fishery has entered the Marine Stewardship Council’s sustainability scheme. Results provided by this expedition will help assess the impact of the fishery and enable management decisions, ensuring long-term sustainability of both the prawn stocks and their environment.

Read more about the project here 

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