NZ: Major investment in deep sea research project –

NZ: Major investment in deep sea research project Published:  21 June, 2007

Jim Anderton

A MULTI-agency research team has just finished gathering extensive information on seabed habitats and animal communities on the Chatham Rise and Challenger Plateau, said NZ Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton.

This work, he says, is a major investment in understanding the soft-sediment communities, which probably make up 90% or more of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but about which very little is known.

“Our EEZ is the fourth largest in the world and contains some of our most valuable natural resources,” he said.

“For future generations to also benefit from these resources, we must maintain the integrity of our ocean habitats and the ecosystems that support them. This new deep sea research will help the future management of New Zealand’s marine environment.”

The Ocean Survey 20/20 Chatham/Challenger research is a collaborative project between the Ministry of Fisheries, Department of Conservation, Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). The wider Ocean Survey 20/20 programme is being led by LINZ, with input from a broad range of central and local government bodies, and research providers

Jim Anderton was aboard NIWA’s research vessel Tangaroa today. It has brought back to Wellington specimens, photographs and video footage of over 5,000 seabed samples from the Chatham Rise and Challenger Plateau. Extensive sonar data was also collected to produce detailed maps of the seafloor’s physical features. This concludes the first stage of the Ocean Survey 20/20 Chatham-Challenger project.

The project aims to map habitats and marine biodiversity of the seabed down to water depths of 1200m in two areas – the Chatham Rise and Challenger Plateau. These two areas are strongly contrasted. The Chatham Rise is highly productive and is one of New Zealand’s most fished areas, while the Challenger Plateau is much less productive and fished far less extensively.

With the field work now completed, scientists will spend the next three years analysing the data and producing ecological maps of seabeds in these two areas.

“Having these maps and new biodiversity information will help us make future decisions around resource use and protection of biodiversity in New Zealand’s offshore areas,” Jim Anderton said.

“The government has already committed to developing Marine Protected Areas within the EEZ sometime after 2012. This new information will help us with these decisions. The Chatham/Challenger project should also help us understand more about the effects of bottom trawling on soft-sediment seabeds.”

The prime purpose of this project is to map and compare the sea-bed habitats and the biological diversity of the sea-bed at several locations across the Chatham Rise and the Challenger Plateau.

This project will provide significant new information about the biodiversity of the sea-bed. Once combined with the physical ocean data that already exists, the government will be much better placed to make decisions about the protection of biodiversity and developing standards for maintaining aquatic health.

Three voyages have taken place using NIWA’s research vessel, Tangaroa.

Voyage 1 took place in August last year and involved a multi-beam echo-sounder survey of the Chatham Rise and the Challenger Plateau. Producing maps of the sea floor, it provided the first systematic multibeam coverage of the area.

Voyage 2 took place in April this year and took samples from over 100 different sample sites on the Chatham Rise. A recently developed deep sea camera system yielded high resolution images of the seabed and samples from the sea-bed communities were collected using sea-bed sleds. These were towed behind the ship and dragged along the sea floor collecting samples. Just under 3400 sample lots were collected, weighing about 3.5 tonnes and made up of about 450 different types of organisms.

Voyage 3 took place in May/June this year and involved exploring the Challenger Plateau locations using similar methods to Voyage 2. Just under 2,000 sample lots were obtained comprising about 200 different types of organisms and weighing a total of 1.5 tonnes.

Scientific analysis over the next three years will be carried out to:

. Identify the animal species collected and compare their diversity and abundance between the two areas;

. Produce maps of habitat type, animal groupings throughout the two areas;

. Determine the major environmental drivers of biodiversity and habitat variation; and

. Map the distribution of trawl marks and evaluate biodiversity and animal community composition along gradients of observed fishing activity. is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.

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