Almost one year after a team of the world's leading marine experts returned from an expedition investigating the life in and around seamounts in the Indian Ocean, the painstaking task of identifying and cataloguing the species they found begins. The nearly 7000 samples they gathered are almost certainly going to contain previously-undiscovered species and new data on where known species congregate, what they eat and how they behave.
See some of the species found during the expedition:
In 2009, marine scientists with a wide range of expertise spent 40 days on board a research ship carrying out the first ever comprehensive biological survey of seamount ecosystems. The cruise was part of the Seamounts Project funded by IUCN and the Global Environment Facility, and in collaboration with a number of partners.
Seamounts are underwater mountains of volcanic and tectonic origin. They are known to be hotpots of biodiversity and attract a range of oceanic predators, including seabirds, whales and sharks.
As a result of the expedition, nearly 7000 samples were gathered and labeled, including an unexpected diversity of fish, shrimps, squid and other marine creatures.
Almost one year after the expedition, 21 scientists and students representing seven countries have gathered in Grahamstown at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) to identify the samples collected during the cruise.
After getting to know the laboratory facilities, they began working through intimidating rows of jars containing fish, squid, zooplankton and other interesting creatures. Many specimens look similar and scientists have to use elaborate morphological features such as muscle orientation and gut length to differentiate between them. Although the work has barely begun, around 30 different species have already been identified, two of which have never been collected in the Indian Ocean before.
The results of the project will not only be interesting from a scientific point of view but they will also directly help improve conservation and management of Indian Ocean resources, as well as future management of deep-sea ecosystems in the high seas globally.
To follow the scientists' work, find out about their latest discoveries and see the fascinating creatures they have found in the Indian Ocean, visit the 2009 Seamounts Cruise blog.