North Sea Expedition 2016 - Oceana Europe

North Sea Expedition 2016

Oceana’s marine scientists undertook a two-month, at-sea expedition to document seafloor habitats and species in the North Sea




Oceana’s marine scientists undertook a two-month, at-sea expedition to document seafloor habitats and species in the North Sea, with the goal of strengthening the network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the region. The expedition, Oceana’s 26th in Europe, marked the first time we surveyed the North Sea. Our expedition took us to selected areas in Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom, but had a special focus on Dutch waters.

The current network of MPAs in the North Sea is not well managed, and the majority of the MPAs are in more coastal than offshore areas. During the expedition, Oceana’s team selected number of areas where more first-hand data can contribute to marine protection: some areas where there are no MPAs, others where MPAs have been proposed but not yet adopted, and others where existing MPAs are in place but may not be sufficient to protect marine life. 

The North Sea

The North Sea covers an area of 750, 000 km2. Although it ranges in depth from 30 to 725 metres, most of the area is quite shallow, with an average depth of only 90 m. It is considered one of the most productive seas in the world, with a broad diversity of plankton, fish, seabirds, and organisms that live on the seafloor. The North Sea is also of great socio-economic value due to its fisheries, oil and gas extraction, harbours and industry – which, in turn, have made it one of the busiest and most highly disturbed seas in the world. The most notable impacts on biodiversity in the North Sea are due to fisheries and eutrophication, in addition to a long list of other threats, including: pollution from domestic and industrial sources; maritime shipping; infrastructure such as oil and gas platforms, wind energy parks, cables, and pipelines; coastal development; and military training.

The shallow waters of the North Sea have supported fisheries for centuries, and while they continue to do so, many commercially fished stocks have been significantly depleted. Overfishing is one of the main reasons behind these declines. In the interest of rebuilding fish stocks – and sustainable fisheries – in the North Sea, we also focused on documenting marine habitats that may be crucial for the recovery of stocks.


Human activity

Direct pressures of human activity have perturbed the natural state of the region’s ecosystems, and the North Sea is considered to be one of the most heavily impacted marine areas in the world.  As a consequence of overfishing, large fish have become scarce, some species have become so depleted that they are listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List and the OSPAR list of threatened and declining species, and bycatch activity has affected population abundance of non-commercial species, such as harbour porpoises. Seabed habitats have also been damaged due to a variety of human activities; an area of seabed equivalent to more than 40% of the area of the North Sea is swept by trawls each year; sand and gravel are extracted from the seabed for construction, beach nourishment, and other uses; sediments are dredged and dumped in hundreds of sites; and infrastructure, such as wind farms and cables, have been introduced as a result of increasing offshore energy production.

Even though by comparison with some other seas, the North Sea is regarded as relatively well-studied, there are still places in the region where relatively little is known about the marine life on the seafloor. This is why further exploration and documentation of species and habitats are needed, in order to be able to identify and protect the ecologically important areas, especially those where threatened species or sensitive habitats occur.

The Expedition

The documentation gathered by Oceana during our North Sea expedition is being used as a solid basis for presenting future proposals to strengthen the North Sea MPA network. Based on the specific marine species, habitats, and communities we identify, we will prepare proposals for the designation of new MPAs, the expansion of existing MPAs, and improved MPA management measures. We will also share the information gathered with national authorities, scientists, and other organisations, in order to help support broader efforts to achieve more biodiversity protection in the North Sea.


Oceana is grateful to the Dutch Postcode Lottery for their generous funding of our North Sea expedition. During the expedition, Oceana worked with the North Sea Foundation in close collaboration with local stakeholders, including local governments, scientists, and NGOs.

ationale Postcode Loterij



August 29, 2016

Expedition ends

By: Juan Cuetos

August 28, 2016

Last day at sea

By: Javier Camarena

August 26, 2016


By: Floris Bennema

August 25, 2016

Grab in the bottom

By: Frank de Graaf

August 24, 2016

Muddy bottoms

By: Cecilie Petersen

August 22, 2016

To run or not to run

By: Claus Koch

August 21, 2016

Pockmarks or grabs

By: Jack Ravensberg

August 20, 2016

The desert?

By: Jorge Candan

August 15, 2016

Thyboron. Denmark

By: Javier Camarena

August 13, 2016

Sailing over memories

By: Brais Lorenzo

August 12, 2016

Grab it all

By: Cecilie Petersen

August 11, 2016

Next country

By: Oceana Web

August 9, 2016

Fresh “air”

By: Jack Ravensberg

August 8, 2016


By: Jorge Candan

August 7, 2016

The Sea

By: Juan Cuetos

August 4, 2016

A packed day

By: Brais Lorenzo

August 2, 2016


By: Oceana Web

August 1, 2016


By: Claus Koch

July 29, 2016

Among Chimeras

By: Juan Cuetos

July 24, 2016

Special guest

By: Cecilie Petersen

July 19, 2016

Road trip

By: Claus Koch

July 18, 2016

Dry land

By: Jesús Molino

July 17, 2016

High tech on-board!

By: Jorge Blanco

July 16, 2016

Diving day

By: Juan Cuetos

July 14, 2016

A day sampling

By: Ricardo Aguilar

July 13, 2016

Wreck-it Rov

By: Brais Lorenzo

July 12, 2016

Currents and tides

By: Jesús Molino

July 10, 2016

British waters

By: Cecilie Petersen

July 9, 2016

New expedition

By: Oceana Web

The Crew

Javier Camarena

ROV Navigator

Frank de Graaf

Stichting Anemoon

Flóris Bennema

Stichting Anemoon

Jorge Candan

Underwater photographer

Juan Marcos

Diving Team Coordinator


Diver and underwater photographer (Spain)


Dive coordinator (Denmark)


First mate (The Netherlands)


ROV's Technician (Spain)

Helena Alvarez

Senior Marine Scientist

Ricardo Aguilar

Senior Advisor & Expedition Leader

Brais Lorenzo

ROV Navigator

Jorge Blanco

Senior GIS Analyst & Logistics Coordinator

Vanya Vulperhorst

Campaign Director

Campaign Director