Project status
West Greenland
Project collaborators
Chris Yesson

Chris Yesson

Research Fellow

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 this 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.

Image Analysis

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 below. 

Survey Images

  • Survey vessel M/T Paamiut in Nuuk, Greenland. This vessel is used by Greenland Institute of Natural Resources for annual stock assessment surveys of the Northern Shrimp. ZSL use the ship at night to take seabed images with a drop camera.

  • Deploying the drop camera on the M/T Paamiut. The camera is lowered over the side of the ship. When it touches the bottom the camera is triggered and a photo is taken of the seabed.

  • Some delicate seabed habitats are sensitive to disturbance. Fragile frameworks created by bryozoans, corals and sponges can be damaged or destroyed by activities such as trawling.

  • These sea cucumbers (Holothurians) bury themselves in the sand and mud. We were lucky to catch this one above ground.

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.

Benthic Image of West Greenland - Before Labelling
Benthic Image of West Greenland - After Labelling
Benthic Image of West Greenland - Before and after Labelling

Habitat maps

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.

Tricky trawling game

tricky trawling logo














This fun and informative game teaches about Arctic seafloor animals, the impacts of deep-sea trawling and sustainable fishery. 

Can you fish without damaging the animals that live on the seafloor?

Play now

Project Information


  • Kirsty Kemp (IoZ)
  • Chris Yesson (IoZ)
  • Stephen Long (Ioz/UCL)


  • Ed Johns (UCL)
  • Mona Fuhrmann (IoZ) 



Long S, Sparrow-Scinocca B, Blicher ME, Hammeken Arboe N, Fuhrmann M, Kemp KM, Nygaard R, Zinglersen K & Yesson C (2020) Identification of a soft coral garden candidate vulnerable marine ecosystem (VME) using video imagery, Davis Strait, west Greenland. Frontiers in Marine Science. 2020;7:460. (doi:10.3389/fmars.2020.00460)

Gougeon S, Kemp KM, Blicher ME & Yesson C (2017) Mapping and classifying the seabed of the West Greenland continental shelf. Estuarine and Coastal Shelf Science. (doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2017.01.009)

Yesson C, Fisher J, Gorham T, Turner CJ, Hammeken Arboe N, Blicher ME & Kemp KM (2016) The impact of trawling on the epibenthic megafauna of the West Greenland shelf. ICES Journal of Marine Science. (doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsw206)

Yesson C, Simon P, Chemshirova I, Gorham T, Turner CJ, Hammeken Arboe N, Blicher ME, Kemp KM (2015) Community composition of epibenthic megafauna on the West Greenland Shelf. Polar Biology.38:2085-2096. (abstract)

Student projects

Students have played an important role in our work.  The following students projects have made a significant contribution to our work.


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