Background

This Research Cruise to Ascension Island in the tropical Atlantic is funded by the Blue Marine Foundation (http://www.bluemarinefoundation.com/) and is the first of its kind. The survey is taking place on the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross (JCR), operated by British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The JCR, a state of the art research vessel, launched by HM the Queen in 1990, is primarily a marine research vessel for biological, oceanographic and geophysical cruises. It is 99m long with a gross tonnage of 5,732. It is equipped with a suite of laboratories and winch systems that allows scientific equipment to be deployed astern or amidships. The ship has an extremely low noise signature, allowing the deployment of sensitive acoustic equipment. A swath bathymetry system was fitted in 2000 for fine scale characterisation of the seabed.

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Ascension Island harbours globally important marine biodiversity, representing unique assemblages of western and eastern Atlantic flora and fauna. Currently, however, a paucity of baseline scientific data from the marine environment is a major barrier to the effective management and conservation of the Island’s marine resources. Data on the abundance, distribution and biology of endemic and commercially exploited species is lacking.

To fill these data gaps, Blue Marine have created an amazing opportunity to assess the marine biodiversity of Ascension and its waters from a previously unexplored depth range of 50 – 1,000 m with a 3 day survey on a state of the art research vessel, the JCR. This will enable new discoveries about the marine biology, ecology and oceanographic features of the island’s waters that will inform us about this unique island environment. This survey, operating round the clock, will cover as large an area as possible around the waters of Ascension Island; with the main focus being depths of 1,000m and shallower and out to circa 20 km where biodiversity is thought to be highest.

During the survey, a number of tools will be used including a high resolution multibeam echo-sounder to revel fine scale bathymetry and create habitat maps and identify features that may be hotspots for biodiversity and these will then be assessed in more detail with video and still photography using BAS’s camera lander (SUCS). A benthic (sea bottom) sampler, an Agassiz trawl, will be used to collect organisms which can then be studied and will contribute to a quantitative assessment of biodiversity in the area and also ground truth the images taken by the SUCS lander. JCR will also be collecting oceanographic data.

multibeam

The vessel arrives at Ascension Island on the 14th October, and comes with a full scientific crew comprising scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI), Shallow Marine Surveys Group (SMSG) and Ascension Island Government (AIG).