What lies beneath our ocean

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DFO area director's column

This summer the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Hudson embarked on a voyage full of fascination and new discoveries off the coasts of Nova Scotia (NS) and Newfoundland (NL). The mission gave scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the Institute of Spanish Oceanography (Vigo, Spain) and Canadian universities a unique opportunity to explore what sort of life lies in the ocean’s great depths.

The exploration focused on deep and unexplored areas of the Sable Gully, Flemish Cap and Orphan Knoll. Using an underwater robot known as the Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Sciences (ROPOS), the scientists found fascinating and unusual specimens three kilometres below the surface that will now be analyzed and documented.

Many of the creatures – including an array of colorful anemones, sponges, octopus and coral – have never been seen before.

By investigating the coral that dates back hundreds of years, scientists hope to better understand the history of the ocean and the effects of climate change. In addition, this mission will allow them to learn more about the unusual, yet sensitive ecosystem that exists in areas now protected from fishing.

Led by chief program coordinator, Dr. Ellen Kenchington, the specialized team involved geologists, biologists, taxonomists, and several technicians that worked in two 12-hour shifts to maximize their time during the twenty days at sea.

While expecting to find some strange creatures that can withstand the harsh environment so far below the surface, scientists were still struck by the discovery of several entirely new species that had never before been seen by human eyes.

ROPOS, the most critical piece of equipment on the ship, is simply a large yellow and black robotic box with arms that can dive deep below the ocean’s surface, taking high resolution images and samples of specimens along the bottom. Its operation was crucial to the mission’s success and was performed by a team of highly skilled operators working around the clock.

And not only did the specialized team witness these exciting discoveries, but many individuals on land were also lucky enough to watched a live communications feed that went directly from the Hudson ship to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography throughout the entire undersea exploration. 

Research trips like this remind us that there are still mysteries hidden deep within the Atlantic.

Imagine what else can be revealed?


(Ian Marshall is the area director for DFO in southwestern Nova Scotia. If you have questions about this column or would you like to read about other DFO issues that affect you and your community in future columns send an email to CommEnquire@mar.dfo-mpo.gc.ca or call 902-426-3550.)

Organizations: DFO, Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada Institute of Spanish Oceanography Operated Platform for Ocean Sciences Bedford Institute of Oceanography

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Spain

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