Two marine biologists sell a glimpse the life in ~ the bottom that the ocean throughout 2018, 2019 and also 2020 seamount expeditions 
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The abundance and diversity of life on and around Canadian mountains in the sea. Beginning in the dark and deep flanks (top left) and also ascending over the summit to the sunlit sea surface (bottom right), the mosaic mirrors cold-water corals and also glass sponges ~ above pillows that lava, a variety of fishes, octopus, crabs, seaweeds, sharks, whales, and seabirds. (Photos: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, S. Du Preez, C. Du Preez, Ocean exploration Trust, the Northeast Pacific Seamount expedition partners, Pacific Wild)


By Cherisse Du Preez and Tammy Norgard
August 6, 2020

We lose sunlight quickly. Thirty meters down is already pitch black. The area illuminated by the beams of ours lights seems modest because that our mission. Imagine mapping the Rocky hills at night by flashlight. As marine bilogists examining seamounts, what we execute is comparable but, because that the full effect, imagine one unexplored Banff is hidden below three kilometers the water. Our expeditions take place thousands of kilometers offshore of brothers Columbia, in Pacific Canada’s other good alpine environment, the hills in the sea. Together we descend right into the ocean, illuminated passersby come to be alien-like. The dark abyss is speckled v the bioluminescence of lantern fish, squids and gelatinous critters of all shapes and also sizes. Passing listed below 1,000 meters depth, we enter the ocean’s midnight zone. If the basic of the mountain deserve to be an additional one to 2 thousand meter deeper, the water is already near freezing and the push a hundred times greater than that competent at sea-level.

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During a seamount expedition, we on regular basis start our dives on a gentle-sloping flank and also “climb” come the steep summit using a submersible robot — snapshot a gondola ride up a mountain, yet equipped with banks of lights, high-resolution video and quiet cameras, dexterous arms, manipulators, arrays that sensors, and instruments. This equipment enables us to document and research the extraordinary life found on and around seamounts.

When lava indigenous a huge deep-sea volcanic eruption forms a gigantic seamount, the abrupt edifice drastically change the regional conditions, creating a hidden underwater island oasis that life in the otherwise open ocean. Rocky seamounts rise kilometers over the bordering mud the covers the bulk of the world’s s floor. The flanks act together a ramp, driving up cold, nutrient-rich water, which can cause a cyclonic circulation to form around the summit. The mixing of upwelled water in ~ the shallower sunlit depths is the perfect recipe for phytoplankton blooms (microscopic plant-like organisms), which fuel the naval food web. These problems attract a diversity the life, from the cold-water corals and also sponges that colonize the deep pillows of volcano lava come transient whales, sharks and seabirds that feed ~ above the high concentration the prey. The positive effects spill over, and also crabs, sea stars, fish, octopuses and numerous other types abound. The variety of animals, biological diversity, and also structural complexity found top top a seamount deserve to rival that of tropic coral reefs.

And due to the fact that seamounts room a hotspot the life, they have the right to play critical role in ocean health and sustainability. However, for the same reasons, seamounts an international are under enhancing threat indigenous overexploitation and climate change. In the Canadian Pacific, conservation comes to include bottom-contact fishing, shipping traffic, oxygen depletion and ocean acidification. In the High Seas, concerns also include the prospect of underwater mining. 

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We check out life on mountains in the sea utilizing deep-sea submersible robots. This is the an initial submersible dive ever to traveler Seamount (2018), Canada’s largest underwater volcano. The illuminated glass bugle-like sponges space the organic structures that create Spongetopia and are a brand brand-new species. (Photo: Ocean exploration Trust, the Northeast Pacific Seamount expedition partners)

To safeguard a facility of three incredible seamounts, the council of the Haida country and the federal government of Canada established the SGaan Kinghlas–Bowie Marine safeguarded Area in 2008. Located offshore that Haida Gwaii, the largest seamount stands end three-kilometers tall and rises within twenty meter of the water"s surface — practically triple the height of Banff’s iconic mountain Rundle. Its summit is therefore shallow that it"s home to kelp woodlands and coastal animals, some of which are threatened, providing an offshore refuge because that life to prosper in the lack of near-shore pressures. Timeless knowledge and scientific evidence tell united state that this seamount was once a volcanic island that has because eroded ago into the sea. The Haida have experienced an intimate interconnection v SGaan Kinghlas since time immemorial.

The near-shore tectonic task found in the Canadian Pacific is a globally-rare phenomenon, and Canada is fortunate come have wealth of seamounts and other connected deep-sea settings in the Pacific waters (and jurisdiction). In 2017, Fisheries and also Oceans Canada suggest a brand-new Pacific MPA to protect over 75 every cent of known Canadian seamounts, which includes all seamounts shallow sufficient to be directly affected by human being activities. The MPA will likewise protect all recognized Canadian hydrothermal vent fields, which space deep-sea warm springs produced by the exact same tectonic task as seamounts yet that support endemic animals found i do not have anything else ~ above Earth.

To far better protect these deep-sea treasures, we need to understand them. Every summer because that the previous three years, DFO has led a team of researchers and communicators on an unprecedented seamount campaign. We have discovered and described over forty hidden seamounts. We gathered species brand-new to science and filmed never-before-seen animals, places, and behaviors. Surprisingly, we have encountered tropical pets around the seamounts — such as bottlenose dolphin — their moving distributions attributed come climate change. ~ above Canada’s largest seamount, Explorer, we discovered Spongtopia — a “Dr Suess” city that towering bugle-like glass sponges that are meters high. We have found and also mapped numerous other forests made that fragile, long-lived habitat-creating corals and also sponges. Choose an old-growth forest, if damaged, it will take decades to centuries for these ecosystems come recover.

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The surprise underwater topography of the Canadian offshore Pacific (coloured as if 3,000 m of water to be removed), its hill ranges including SGaan Kinghlas-Bowie (SK-B) and also Explorer (E) seamounts, and also the areas of the existing and proposed seamount marine Protected areas (in the north and south, respectively). (Photo: C. Du Preez, Fisheries and also Oceans Canada)

While our expedition research intends to assistance science-based decision-making in the development of protection, our imagery — with its large reach — plays an important role, showcasing Canadian seamounts and the extraordinary and unique life lock support. Together Jacques Cousteau famously said, “People defend what castle love.” Alpine settings have not been creates from this truth in spite of their general remoteness and historical inaccessibility. Photographs and stories catching the beauty and also importance of mountains have regularly been enough to accumulate awe and also shape publicly opinion, moving civilization to act. We have the right to only expect for comparable success v seamounts as countless viewers have actually watched our exploration livestream and also highlight reels across Canada and also around the world in end 130 countries. Canadians are extremely fortunate the seamounts room our nationwide heritage and in our power to understand and protect. Remove the water and also these mountains are as much a component of Canada as the Rockies.

Cherisse Du Preez and Tammy Norgard are marine biologists based in B.C. At the academy of ocean Sciences (Sidney) and Pacific organic Station (Nanaimo), research organizations within the room of Fisheries and also Oceans Canada (DFO). Cherisse specialization in studying deep-sea benthic ecology utilizing remotely operated vehicles video surveys and ship-based mutlibeam sonar. Tammy is the regimen Head of the huge Offshore Marine safeguarded Area.

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This essay was published in the Alpine society of Canada"s 3rd annual State the the mountains Report, which includes stories, facts and also figures on Canada"s alpine environments, including: the potential results of landslides, volcanic eruptions and anthropegnic task on hill ranges; climate readjust and glaciers; new efforts in aboriginal mountain communities; the biodiversity that plants and also animals in Canada’s mountains; seamounts turn off Canada"s East and West coasts; a deep dive right into Canada"s mountain caves, and also much more. Read these stories at stateofthemountains.ca.