Blog Tags: Gorringe Bank
We are thrilled to announce another ocean victory this week! In an ambitious step for ocean protection, Portugal has decided to nominate the rich ecosystem of the Gorringe Bank as a new Marine Protected Area.
The Gorringe seamounts, located 300 kilometers off the coast of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, are a marvel to behold: at 5000 meters high, they boast a veritable kaleidoscope of colorful flora and fauna. Since 2005, Oceana has worked to draw attention and recognition to this bank, and to bring its spectacular seamount ranges into the network of marine protected areas.
An Oceana expedition by our catamaran, the Ranger, to the Gorringe area in October 2012 documented species never before seen in these seamounts, including branching black coral, roughskin dogfish, hydrocoral, bird’s nest sponge, and various gorgonia. Dozens of the species observed on this expedition have not yet been identified. Unfortunately, among these unique wonders, the expedition also documented the invasive presence of litter, debris, and fishing gear, particularly in the rocky seabeds of the banks.
The nomination of the Gorringe as a protected area in the Atlantic brings hope for a halt and even a reversal of the destruction of this complex and diverse ecosystem that hosts corals, sharks, seabirds, whales, and more. Currently, Portugal maintains the least marine protected surface in all of Europe. With this ambitious project, however, the Portuguese government looks to soar from the bottom of the list to the top. Boasting more than 1.7 square kilometers in its Exclusive Economic Zone and nearly 4 million square kilometers claimed as an expansion of its continental shelf, Portugal’s bold step for the oceans is an admirable example for the EU, and for all coastal countries of the world.
In the past few weeks Oceana's Ranger expedition has been exploring a series of underwater mountains 130 miles West of Portugal known as the Gorringe bank. Formed along with the Atlantic Ocean as Pangaea pulled apart 145 to 155 million years ago, the Gorringe bank juts from depths of as much as 16,000 feet to only 100 feet below the surface. These underwater mountain ranges are a hotspot for marine life, as nutrient rich water upwells to the seamount peaks.
Closer to the surface a familiar parade of whales, dolphins, swordfish and barracuda visit lush kelp forests, while shearwaters and petrels circle above. As you dive deeper though, as the Ranger expedition has with its underwater robot (ROV), you enter a somewhat stranger world, but one that is no less diverse. This is the domain of the dragon fish, the fan corals, the otherworldly deep-sea sharks, the churlish-looking pink frogmouth and still more species unknown to science. Other animals are ambassadors of the deep, patrolling up and down the seamounts in search of prey
“During last year’s expedition we found some new species whose existence in the Gorringe was unknown, such as branching black coral, hydrocoral, dogfish, bird’s nest sponge, and various gorgonia”, says Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research at Oceana in Europe. “There are dozens of species which have not been identified yet. We hope that they will provide new data on these ecosystems, and facilitate the protection and conservation of this unique enclave.”
Unfortunately, as the ranger expedition has also discovered, this habitat is also home to an increasing amount of trash, especially abandoned fishing gear.
By documenting and exploring habitat, Oceana is gathering data about this unique ecosystem that will be crucial in formulating conservation plans that will hopefully protect the area from malign human influences like pollution and bottom trawling.
It’s a busy and exciting time of year for our campaigners on the water -- and for those of us who get to see the photos and videos of the incredible marine life and habitats that they send back to land.
As you know if you’ve been following the blog for the past week or so, we have a team off the coast of Oregon right now exploring important ecological areas. And today, our team in Europe is launching its seventh annual summer expedition.
This year the Oceana catamaran, Ranger, will sail for two months through the western Mediterranean and the Atlantic to study seamounts and sea canyons, ocean environments that are rich in biodiversity but relatively unexplored due to their depth and complex terrains. That’s where our scientists, divers and underwater robot (ROV) come in.
In one of the most exciting aspects of this year’s expedition, Oceana will collaborate with Portuguese government officials and scientists to investigate the Gorringe Bank, a little-explored seamount and an oasis of biodiversity southwest of Portugal. Oceana last surveyed these waters in 2005, but this time around, using the ROV, the team will be exploring and documenting areas more than 2,500 feet -- that’s about half a mile! -- below the surface of the ocean.
The ROV will record high-resolution videos and photos, which will ultimately be used to propose the creation of marine protected areas and other conservation measures.
We can’t wait to see what our teams find in the ocean’s depths. We’ll keep you updated as the journey progresses!
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