Imagine exploring Banff National Park and discovering mountains that no one knew were there. That’s what happened during our recent Northeast Pacific Seamounts Expedition, in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Oceana Canada, the Haida Nation and Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) (Figure 1).
While mapping and exploring these underwater volcanoes, the science team aboard exploration vessel (EV) Nautilus discovered six previously unknown seamounts ⎯along with an extraordinary diversity and abundance of marine life. These discoveries successfully fulfilled the mission’s goal of learning more about these biodiversity hotspots to inform protection measures.
These underwater mountains rise 1000-3000 metres from the seafloor (Figure 2), and provide a mid-ocean nursery for rare and new-to-science marine life. The steep slopes are home to vast ancient sponge, coral forests and a diversity of colourful fish and invertebrates (Figure 3). The expedition team collected 150 specimens of more than 100 species.
“We’ve gathered potentially previously unknown species of undersea life. This collection of specimens is an impressive set and, coupled with videos of the species in their habitat as well as DNA barcoding, it will be a comprehensive contribution to our understanding of life on seamounts," comments expedition lead scientist, Tammy Norgard, DFO.
During the expedition, ONC extended its long-term continuous monitoring capacity by deploying a sophisticated instrument package on Dellwood Seamount to track habitat changes over time.
“Gathering data through expeditions like this⎯and through the installation of long-term monitoring platforms⎯ advances the world’s understanding of ocean biodiversity hotspots at a critical time when governments, Indigenous peoples, and conservation groups are working to formally protect vulnerable marine ecosystems.” says Kim Juniper, ONC’s chief scientist.
ONC's chief scientist Kim Juniper participated in two well-attended “Seamount Viewing Parties” co-hosted with the Haida Nation in Skidegate and Old Massett (Figure 4). Several of the seamounts explored are located within Haida territory, including SGaan Kinghlas, designated as a marine protected area in 2008 and co-managed by DFO and the Haida Nation. According to Haida oral tradition, this seamount is said to be the home of a supernatural being known as SGaan Kinghlas, which means ‘supernatural being looking outwards’ in the Massett dialect.
“Sharing the wonder of the seamounts through a live video feed brought that reality right into our lives. The excitement that was shown in our communities and the conversations had over the 16-days of the expedition was nothing short of remarkable,” comments kil tlaats ‘gaa Peter Lantin, President of the Haida Nation.
While the information and samples gathered during this successful mission have yet to be analyzed, this expedition highlighted the importance of the SGaan Kinghlas marine protected area (Figure 5). Thanks to the collaborative efforts of government, science, advocacy, and Indigenous stakeholders (Figure 6), these data will inform future decisions on how to manage and protect these important mid-ocean nurseries.
In addition to the significant scientific discoveries, the expedition also provided a successful outreach opportunity. The livestream was viewed worldwide for a total of 1.02 million minutes, generating 213,000 views. 33,000 users visited the interactive website protectoceans.ca; and on social media, close to 1000 contributors generated a reach of over two million impressions via hashtag #PacificSeamounts2018.