Nekton’s primary scientific objective for its first mission is to create a standardised methodology for marine biologists around the world to assess the function, health and resilience of the deep ocean.
The scientific research will provide a baseline for future ocean research programmes worldwide and be released as part of the XL Catlin Deep Ocean Survey.
The locations have been carefully selected to meet the specific objectives of the scientists who are studying the consequences of naturally occurring and human activity within this least-explored, yet critically important, ecosystem.
The mission will focus on the Bermuda Platform in the North Atlantic and aims to undertake the longest cross-depth transects ever completed. The purpose is to identify changing biological, chemical and physical parameters across a series of ecosystems including the Gulf Stream.
The Bermuda Platform, located to the north-west of Bermuda, was formed from the eroded stump of a large volcano around 40 million years ago. It is located at the highest point of the Bermuda Rise which is 1500km long and 500-1000km wide and, itself, formed by volcanic activity.
Gully Marine Protected Area, Nova Scotia
Located 200km southeast of Nova Scotia, the Gully Marine Protected Area is the largest submarine canyon in eastern North America. It is home to a wide variety of organisms, including cold-water coral, diverse fish species and more than 14 different kinds of marine mammals, including the endangered Scotian Shelf population of Northern Bottlenose Whale.
The Sargasso Sea is at risk from the vast accumulations of litter that have built up within gyres. Scientists will examine the impact on the local ecosystem and also attempt to identify where these accumulations of litter end up. Unlike most other gyres where the litter remains and persists, long-term build up does not appear to occur in the Sargasso Sea.
PRIMARY AREAS OF RESEARCH
The scientists will study the biodiversity and abundance of marine species across a wide range of depths and locations. They hope to discover what physical and biological factors affect species distribution and how biogenic structures (i.e. structures created by marine creatures) influence biodiversity and the connectivity of communities.
The marine species being studied fall into three main groupings:
- Epifaunal & Infaunal
Aquatic species that live on the surface of submerged rocks, plants or animals (i.e. crabs, mussels, starfish). Infaunal species (i.e. clams, burrowing worms) that live below or burrow into these surfaces.
- Benthic & Epibenthic
Species that live in or on the deep ocean sea-bed (i.e. lobsters, sponges, and other tiny organisms that live in the bottom sediments).
- Pelagic & Neustonic
Organisms that live suspended in seawater (pelagic) or on top of the water or just under the surface (neustonic).
The sargassum weed in the Sargasso Sea will also be studied. This ecosystem is vitally important as a migration route, foraging and spawning ground for threatened and iconic species of whales and sharks as well as several important, but now declining, commercial species including the European freshwater eel and blue-fin tuna.
Across each study location, the scientists will attempt to identify how the various hydrodynamic regimes (the forces of the sea) interact with underwater features like seamounts, island slopes and canyons.
They will also investigate how local and more mainstream deep-sea phenomena (everything from localised currents to the Gulf Stream) influence marine communities.
Nekton’s science team will study the risks to the long-term health of the ocean caused by human activity.
Areas of scientific study will include:
- Levels of macronutrients (nitrates, nitrites, phosphate, silicate) and any evidence of human influence
- Carbonate chemistry which is important in understanding the impacts of ocean acidification
- Levels of suspended sediment
- Evidence of contamination from heavy metals, oil, or persistent organic pollutants
- Distribution of and damage caused by large debris and small particulate waste materials (especially microplastics)
- Level of physical damage caused by fishing, dive-related tourism or other human activities
- Evidence of disease in coral
- Abundance, distribution, habitat, diet and impact on local fish communities of invasive lionfish