As a marine researcher recently receiving my B.Sc. in Marine Science, I was eager to get more experience in the field. When I graduated, I discovered Archipelagos and knew it would provide me with the perfect remote location where I can research an area that is not well understood or explored. Therefore, I made the decision to stay for a duration of 11 months to adequately study the Aegean Sea. With a high abundance of species and complex benthic habitats, the Aegean acts as an ideal biodiversity hotspot. However, due to the lack of scientific data there is little known about the deeper zones of this sea. My aim was to learn more about these environments to ultimately help ensure the enforcement of conservation measures.
My initial months working with Archipelagos I was lucky enough to be a part of the crew for the very first .coralligenous expedition The main objective was to map and investigate coralligenous habitats in the mesophotic zone (30-150m). The term “coralligenous” refers to coralline algae that produces a biogenic substrate on an otherwise sandy seafloor. This habitat attracts many marine flora and fauna by providing a higher structural complexity similar to a coral reef. Although it serves as an essential habitat, (i.e. providing species with shelter, spawning grounds, feeding sources, and more) there is a severe lack of conservation legislations that are properly implemented. By filling knowledge gaps and accumulating data surrounding these communities it increases the likelihood that these measurements will be enforced. Therefore, we set sail on an expedition and the discoveries exceeded our expectations.
Preliminary assessments began by using Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK). Citizen science data came from artisanal fishermen of the Dodecanese islands who were able to give insight on coralligenous locations, setting the foundation for all expeditions. Using advanced equipment, such as underwater acoustic technology and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), the crew onboard the Aegean Explorer vessel was able to detect coralligenous communities and identify species with the help of expert taxonomists. Observational surveys led to a larger understanding of mesophotic benthic habitats and resulted in over 250 species of marine life being identified.
By analyzing the ROV videos, I was able to compare the different habitats (i.e. coralligenous reefs, maërl/rhodolith beds, sea pen fields, black coral forests, etc.) and observe the connectivity between each of them. Although there were similarities regarding distribution and species, it was clear that different phyla preferred different biogenic constructions. For example, sponges were found to dominate areas of coralligenous assemblages while other species largely preferred attaching themselves to the tree-like corals around 100-meter depths.With the findings from these expeditions, Archipelagos is determined to convince authorities to ensure enforcement of “no-trawl zones” with the hope that these vulnerable ecosystems are protected from destructive fishing methods and other anthropogenic impacts.
I am grateful to have been part of such a large project, contribute to Archipelagos’conservation goals, and further my knowledge in marine research.
Lana Mena, B.Sc. in Marine Science, Stockton University, United States of America