Azores, Portugal, 2014

Mesophotic Black Coral Reefs

Global SubDive created an opportunity for a mission collaboration between Project Baseline, Global SubDive, Global Underwater Explorers, and the University of the Azores (IMAR/DOP-UAç) in 2014 to survey several mesophotic Black Coral reefs throughout the islands and shallow seamounts comprising the Azores Archipelago. The science team, led by Dr. Pedro Ribiero, devised and participated in a series of survey dives conducted for a period of 10 days aimed at documenting distributions of black coral along the deep water slopes.

The expedition team including two Triton submarines that operate to a depth of 300 meters, a deep technical dive team that operates to a depth of 100 meters, a shallow dive team operating above 40 meters depth, mostly comprised of the scientists conducting biological sampling. Together, the team conducted detailed video surveys and collected important samples from some of the most charismatic marine areas of the Azores. These included the Princess Alice Bank, the Pico-Faial Channel, Calheta do Nesquim (south coast of Pico), D. João de Castro Bank and the Formigas Bank.

Dozens of species, including some invasive ones, as well as geological underwater formations were documented on video and photo. Several black coral gardens, which are fundamental for the structuring of benthic communities in the Azores, were mapped. Nearly 200 specimens were collected, which were used for validation of video surveys and habitat predictive models, and for further studies in the scope of ongoing research projects. Detailed descriptions of the selected sites were compared with previous surveys in the cases where they exist and established new baselines for the areas that had never been surveyed previously.

Despite the presence of recent fishing gear in some of the protected areas visited, the communities appear healthier than in previous visits, but not yet completely restored. These observations stress the need for a strict respect for the existing regulations on the use of the oceans surrounding the Azores. The success of our mission stemmed largely thanks to the collaboration of the Government of the Azores and the Portuguese Navy, who supported all the legal procedures required for the mission.

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