Protecting our planet’s ecosystems and natural resources is a big job, and no one can do it alone. Collaboration between the world’s leading scientists is crucial in order to combine valuable data and convince decision-makers to take action. This week, a team made up from staff from CI, the New England Aquarium (NEAq), National Geographic, the Waitt Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute set out to discover and explore seamounts—largely-unstudied ecosystems—in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago, an integral part of the Bird’s Head Seascape. The expedition is led by CI’s Chief Scientist for Oceans Dr. Greg Stone. Here is his most recent update from the water—brought to you directly from the NEAq blog.
Our expedition team is now on board and we are sailing towards our first anchorage in Raja Ampat. Here we hope to discover and explore seamounts—the major purpose for our collaborative and interdisciplinary voyage.
Seamounts: Hidden Mountains
The 6,600-ton nuclear submarine USS San Francisco entered a poorly mapped area 400 miles southwest of Guam in the eastern Pacific Ocean (just to the north of where we are now). Gliding at 38 miles per hour 500 feet down, without warning the colossal submarine buckled into the side of an uncharted seamount. It was a tragic event resulted in pandemonium on the sub after the impact, but the thick inner hull protecting the nuclear reactor held and the crippled sub managed to surface. One sailor was killed and 75 injured, but the remaining crew and the sub survived the May 16, 2005, collision.
The San Francisco had slammed into one of the estimated 60,000 seamounts that rise from the seafloor in all oceans of the Earth. Most are uncharted, only a few hundred have ever been visited, fewer than 1000 have names, and only a handful have been intensively studied.
Seamounts are extinct and active underwater volcanoes. These hidden mountains of the sea rival the Rocky Mountains in size and challenge coral reefs for biodiversity. Seamounts contain many new and endemic species and are now recognized as the last frontier in earth geography, ocean science and conservation.
Seamounts of Raja Ampat
The primary purposes of this project is to document and photograph Seamounts and the biology that lives on them for a National Geographic Magazine story written by me and photographed by Brian Skerry, and also to add new and important information about deep sea biodiversity in the Raja Ampat Seascape in order to enhance our understanding and conservation of this reagion. We are diving in one of the most biodiverse places in the ocean, the Raja Ampat seascape, a large marine conservation site where CI and partners works with governmental and non-governmental partners.
Complex networks of deep and shallow currents swirling around, up and over these giant seamounts enrich the water, increasing ocean productivity and encouraging concentrations of ocean life.
Seamounts are important because fish and other forms of marine life and seafood in many shallow parts of the ocean are greatly diminished. Increasingly, commercial fishers are being forced to the deeper recesses of the sea, which has brought seamounts to center stage in the environmental debate about over-fishing because sometimes huge nets are dragged over the seamounts, which can harm or even destroy their unique life forms.
Our plan is to use a helicopter, Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and SCUBA diving to find and survey seamounts of this region. We hope to find and explore previously unknown seamounts and will report back on that soon.
To read all the posts from this expedition, check out the NEAq Global Explorers blog.