Between 2016 and 2017, Oceana’s researchers conducted two scientific expeditions across the North Sea, onboard the MV Neptune – a fully equipped vessel, 50 m in length. The result: 42707 observation records of North Sea marine species, ranging from corals and sponges to crustaceans, fish, and molluscs. These records can now be explored in Oceana’s North Sea Viewer, an interactive map that will be a valuable tool for efforts to strengthen and expand the marine protected area (MPA) network in the North Sea. By providing scientists and decision-makers with better data about the region’s marine biodiversity it helps to highlight key areas that should be prioritised for protection and further study.
The vivid visuals and interactive contents of the viewer show the richness of marine life in the North Sea, considered one of the most biologically productive seas in the world. When navigating these maps, researchers and other users will find a range of marine species and seafloor habitats, areas of critical importance for commercial species, and records of human impacts documented in specific sites.
During at-sea research, our team of scientists surveyed 29 areas across the waters of five countries (Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom). To do so, they used visual means, such as a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), which is an underwater robot with a high-definition camera that allowed for documenting and observing the underwater environment. Meanwhile, in shallow-water areas, professional SCUBA divers also filmed and photographed marine life. The targeted areas were selected in consultation with government agencies, local scientists, and NGOs in each of the studied countries.
After a total of 16 weeks of research at sea, Oceana identified 1284 species that are displayed in the viewer, along with high-resolution pictures taken by our experts. In total, there are 42707 different records within the viewer, which gives a broad overview of the richly varied aquatic vegetation and marine wildlife found in the North Sea.
The current network of MPAs in the North Sea is characterised by gaps in protection. Most MPAs only grant protection to a limited number of habitats or species within their boundaries, rather than ecosystem-level protection, and protection is especially lacking in deeper and offshore areas. Many MPAs are also not well-managed, which limits how effective they are in meeting their conservation objectives.
Compared to other seas, the North Sea is relatively well-studied, yet there are still places where information about marine life on the seafloor is limited. One important step for addressing the gaps in protection of the North Sea is therefore to acquire more knowledge about the region's marine biodiversity.