First-hand data on sea-bottom species and habitats will be used to help create new marine protected areas (MPAs) in North Sea
Oceana is launching today its two-month expedition in the North Sea to survey important areas of marine life in the waters of Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom, on board the vessel Neptune. The organisation’s second research project in the North Sea is generously funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery and will build on our initial surveys of the region in 2016. Oceana’s scientists will this year document species and habitats in 16 areas of interest, revisiting previously studied sites, where more detailed information is needed, and explore new places that may need protection.
During last year’s North Sea quest, Oceana documented high diversity in many of the areas that were characterised by sensitive habitats. Some of them harbour rare and threatened species and communities, while others may play an important role in supporting the recovery of commercial fish stocks, by serving as areas where fish feed, reproduce, or grow.
“Even in a relatively well-studied region like the North Sea, there are many places where little is known about the life that lies on the sea floor. The information gathered during our expedition will help to fill this gap, identifying priority areas where protection – or stronger protection – is needed, either to conserve biodiversity or to support fish stock recovery,” explained Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research and Expeditions at Oceana in Europe. “Our focus on areas of ‘Essential Fish Habitat’ comes at a key moment for fisheries management in the region, given that members of the European Parliament will vote in a few weeks on the North Sea multi-annual management plan for demersal stocks (e.g., cod, haddock and sole), which has the potential to make the protection of these areas a clear priority,” added Aguilar.
The expedition team will gather data from depths of up to 600 metres, with the help of Oceana’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV), which can capture high-definition photos and videos of sea life. Additional information will be collected by professional SCUBA divers, through seabed sampling, and with the use of a multibeam echosounder. Together, these tools will allow detailed mapping, identification and documentation of marine communities living on the ocean floor.
The findings will form the basis of proposals to improve marine protection, either through the creation of new MPAs, the enlargement of existing MPAs, or by introducing stronger management measures, ensuring effective protection of vulnerable species and habitats within MPAs. Survey areas were selected in consultation with government agencies, scientists and NGOs in the five nations being studied; all the gathered data will be shared freely with them in order to support broader efforts to preserve the North Sea. During the expedition, Oceana will collaborate with the Dutch organisation North Sea Foundation as its main partner.
Notes to the Editor:
The North Sea is one of the most productive seas in the world, with a wide range of plankton, fish, seabirds and organisms that live on the seafloor. Currently, many MPAs in the North Sea lack effective management, and the majority of existing ones are coastal, which neglects protection of offshore species, including commercially exploited ones. During the expedition, Oceana will survey both coastal and offshore areas where first-hand information is needed for improved marine life protection, either through MPA designation, expansion, or stronger management.