Azores: Protecting the treasures of the deep

Feature story - 26 April, 2006
After months of confronting whalers and pirates, some might envy the crew aboard the next leg of Defending Our Oceans who are heading to the beautiful Azores in the mid-Atlantic. The Azores are home to creatures such as sperm whales – immortalized in Moby Dick - and the territory of the ever-fascinating giant squid. But such deep sea life may not be around for long unless we can protect it from threats such as bottom trawling.

Despite the beautiful surrounds, there won't be much time for sun onthe deck - we are working with the International Fund for AnimalWelfare (IFAW) and the University of the Azores (UAC) to researchamazing deep sea habitats which are particularly threatened by destructive fishing practices.

The waters around the Azores are home to some stunning marine life andhabitats, including vast mountains under the sea known as seamounts(the 9 Azorean islands themselves are in fact mountain peaks of thegiant mid-Atlantic ridge), giant squid and up to 26 different types ofwhales and dolphins; including the legendary sperm whale.


For this leg of the expedition, the Esperanzahas been equipped with state of the art monitoring equipment, includinga remote operating vehicle (ROV) which can shoot video down to a depthof 300m, and a drop camera capable of reaching depths of 1,000 metres -giant squid territory! The ship will become part of the ongoing UACresearch program intended to establish greater scientific knowledge ofthe importance of deep-sea habitats and marine life.

Whale photo ID

Also on board will be a sperm whale researcherfrom IFAW who will continue their programme of monitoring anddocumenting the populations in the area. The Esperanza now has ahydrophone and specially developed computer software to acousticallydetect sperm whales. Photographic documentation of whales will alsohelp to add to the regional photo-id catalogue, which is managed byIFAW.

Deep sea habitats are particularly vulnerable to destructivefishing practices, such as bottom trawling, because the marine life onand around them are usually very slow to grow and mature. Bottomtrawling can turn once thriving deep-sea oases into bare, broken andempty deserts, before scientists can even begin to understand the valueof what is there.

Ending the destruction

In December 2005 the Azorean governmentachieved their aim of securing a European ban on bottom trawling in itswaters, after two years of protest. This joint Greenpeace, IFAW, UACexpedition will make the case for a global moratorium on high seasbottom trawling. And not only that, it supports the wider aim of ourmost ambitious ship expedition ever, to push for a properly enforcedglobal network of marine reserves.

So stay tuned for some amazing images, fascinating whalephotos, and fingers and tentacles crossed for some giant squid… makesure you're signed up as an Ocean Defender to stay up to date!

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Behind the scenes!

Check out the ROV, camera and other toys on Ocean Defenders TV