Owned by Spain, but located just off the northwest coast of Africa, the Canary Islands sport a wide variety of marine life, including five species of marine turtles, ten species of sharks and rays, and innumerable fish and invertebrates. However, a new expedition has gone beyond the known, sending a robot to depths of 500 meters to discover the secrets of the Canary Island’s deep sea.
Carried out by Oceana and Fundación Biodiversidad (Spain), the expedition has discovered approximately twelve new species, including glass and rock sponge; ball, white and black coral, and an armored searobin. The robot, equipped with a video camera, also took footage of little-known species, some of which have never before been filmed in their natural habitat, including channeled rockfish, anglerfish, silver and pink gallo fish, fan coral, bathyal sea fans, Venus fly-trap anemones, and lollipops sponges.
Top: Glass sponges (Asconema setubalense) field. NW La Gomera, Spain. Canary Islands Oceana Ranger Expedition. August 2009. Bottom: Channeled rockfish (Setarches guentheri) with unidentified sponge. 509 meters depth. South of Mogan, Gran Canaria, Spain. Canary Islands Oceana Ranger Expedition. August 2009. Photos © OCEANA.
The expedition’s goal is to identify species rich areas that should be made into Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). While the United Nations has called for 10 percent of the ocean to be protected, currently the EU has set aside 2.7 percent while the Canary Islands have protected only 0.15 percent of its nearby waters.
“The lack of knowledge of the communities existing at great depths is one of the biggest problems when it comes time to decide which areas must be protected,” says Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research for Oceana Europe. “The narrow platform existing around the islands makes the bottoms drop steeply to 1000 and 3000 meters, making it difficult to learn about them. It is essential that different habitats and species are included in the protected marine areas, since these serve as a refuge and breeding ground for the rest of the coastal and oceanic areas surrounding the archipelago”.
The expedition has been ongoing for a month with the robot having dived 40 times off of 6 of the 7 islands in the Canary Islands archipelago. The next month will visit the last island and revisit the other as well, says Oceana.
Venus fly-trap anemone (Actinosyphia saginata). 498 meters depth. Mogan, Gran Canaria, Spain. Canary Islands Oceana Ranger Expedition. August 2009. Photo © OCEANA.
African armored searobin (Peristedion cataphractum) Bocayna Strait, Lanzarote, Spain. Canary Islands Oceana Ranger Expedition. August 2009. Photo © OCEANA.
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