Azores - beneath the surface

Feature story - May 16, 2006
We have documented some of the most elusive - and strange-looking - life on earth with a team of scientists working in the Azores. Despite equipment failure and bad weather, during a three-week survey of the rich marine life we filmed and photographed creatures living at depths as low as 700 metres.

Spiral tube worms live in membranous tubes, and have a feathery, filter-feeding crown that can be quickly withdrawn into the tube when danger threatens.

Equipped with state of the art imaging equipment, including a remoteoperating vehicle and a drop camera, we were able to survey parts ofthe deep sea that have never been seen by human eyes, including corals,sponges, a variety of fish, sea slugs and salps and even deep watersharks.

Ourintrepid expedition leader, Richard Page, who had to overcome thedisappointment of broken cameras and remote operating vehicles thatdidn't actually operate, was nevertheless fascinated by what we found.

"Onlya tiny part of this enormous stretch of the Atlantic Ocean hasbeen investigated. Like the rest of the world's oceans, we are only justbeginning to understand what is down there and what impact we are havingon its survival."

       

"Everyrecord helps us build up our understanding of these valuablemarine ecosystems, and we have a much more detailed picture of someareas of the seabed than we had before. Now begins the detailedanalysis," said Azores University Marine Scientist Frederico Cardigas.

Earlierin the expedition we worked with the International Fund ForAnimal Welfare (IFAW) collaborated on a whale watching survey of the area. Justthree months after coming from the whaling grounds of the Southern Ocean, the teamin the Azores was able to show the value to the environment -- not to mention theeconomy -- of whalewatching. 

Photographs of individualwhales will be added to the regional photo-id catalogue in the Azores,which is managed by IFAW.

Sowhere to next, Ocean Defenders? Stay tuned for the next leg of theexpedition as the Esperanza heads towards the Mediterranean.

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