Subsea Expo

The voice of the UK subsea industry

Falcon Explores Mountain

24 December 2012

Oceana, the largest ocean conservation organisation, has explored a number of undersea mountains in the Atlantic and Mediterranean using the small, deep-swimming Falcon DR ROV.

They recorded many species and habitats needing protection and conservation with the 1000 metre-rated Saab Seaeye ROV - from carnivorous sponges to lobsters and sharks.

Never before has such an enterprise been undertaken by an NGO, says executive director of Oceana in Europe, Xavier Pastor, explaining that efforts to preserve biodiversity have overlooked deep-sea areas.

Now high technology underwater vehicles are making this more possible.

"Oceana is a pioneering NGO in the use of ROVs, says Xavier Pastor, who understands the important role technology plays in documenting habitats and species that require protection.

Oceana started the current project some 240 kilometres off the Portuguese coast in the range of marine mountains called the Gorringe Bank.

Here scientists filmed algae forests and hundreds of species, and noted the ecological value that undersea mountains, called seamounts, offer to many species including whales, dolphins and swordfish.

Director of research in Europe, Ricardo Aguilar, says they have found species whose existence on the Gorringe Bank was unknown in an ecosystem that needs conservation.

He adds that when they later explored the Chella Bank - offshore Almeria in South East Spain - they found protected species such as a carnivorous sponge and angular rough shark at risk from damage to their seamount habitat by recreational and commercial fishing.

He explains that deploying the Falcon for hundreds of hours of filming has enabled Oceana to gather essential scientific data.

"Filming rocky sites at various depths requires a high degree of technical complexity, he says.

Being able to use transects the more complex operation of moving the ROV along a path, rather than directly up and down has given a more comprehensive view of the area.

Its five powerful thrusters make precise manoeuvrability possible and keep the vehicle steady in strong currents whilst filming and collecting samples when needed.

Oceana also benefit from having an ROV that is small enough to be manhandled from its vessel, yet has advanced distributed intelligence technology that allows a host of advanced systems to be fitted. These include systems such as video and the high definition cameras manufactured and supplied by Marine Vision, who also supplied the ROVs.

The Falcon DR, operated by Instalsub for Oceana, came over from the Gulf of Mexico where Oceana used it to assess the long-term impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill on marine ecology in the area.