Oceana launches expedition to El Hierro island and the Atlantic seamounts

In Oceana’s second expedition to the Canaries, scientists will use an ROV to film offshore areas that have almost never been explored before.

Press Release Date: September 15, 2014

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

The government projects that El Hierro will be made into the first marine national park in Spain

Today, Oceana launched an expedition with the support of Biodiversity Foundation to document the waters around the island of El Hierro, which is expected to become the first marine national park in Spain. The one-month campaign will be carried out using divers and an ROV that is capable of depths of up to 1000 meters, with the aim of mapping the seamounts north of Lanzarote as well as the seamounts of the Sahara, which is located at the southernmost point of the Spanish Exclusive Economic Zone.

“The Canary Islands are a unique location in terms of their oceanographic characteristics and the levels of biodiversity found there. The information gathered from our expedition in 2009 led us to propose the creation of a protected area in the waters around El Hierro, and the images we get now will be very useful for the plans towards creating a marine national park in this area” explains Ricardo Aguilar, campaign director and expedition leader at Oceana in Europe. “In addition, we have high expectations for this new campaign as the ocean depths and seamounts in this location have been studied very little and remain largely unchartered.”

The expedition will be supported by underwater photographers and videographers, for the areas where the depth permits, and a Van Veen grab sampler will be used to gather sediment samples and small organisms. Likewise, opportunistic sighting of large pelagic birds and cetaceans will be recorded, as these islands are home, temporarily or permanently, to one-third of all identified cetacean species worldwide.

The island of El Hierro has a narrow shelf, which means that there is a rapid increase in depth from the shoreline to depths of 3,000 meters. This generates heterogeneous habitats, and subsequently, there is a great abundance and diversity of fauna. The area boasts many endemic and protected commercial species, some of which Oceana has had the chance to document during the previous expedition, for example grouper (Epinephelus marginatus) and devil ray (Mobula mobular). 

Seamounts are home to many vulnerable features such as coral reefs and sponge aggregations, which are critical to the survival of the marine ecosystem. Oceana has been studying these formations, gathering information in order to advance their protection. This expedition will add to the limited available knowledge on these landforms in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.

Learn more: Atlantic Seamounts 2014

Flickr album: El Hierro: La Restinga-Mar de las Calmas (2009 expedition)