British researchers are engaged in uncovering and documenting the mysteries of the deep sea.
Scientists at the Natural History Museum (NHM) embarked on a six-week expedition to learn more about fragile and rarely studied environments in the remote waters of the South Atlantic.
The team will sample and map the coastline, test water quality, measure temperature and plastic particles, and identify marine life.
The researchers suspect that some of the specimens they recovered from the waters around St. Helena and Ascension Islands may be examples of species previously unknown to science, but further analysis is underway.
James McLain, NHM’s senior curator of fish, who was on the trip, told the PA news agency: “All of this makes me very excited.
“It’s amazing to see something you know, from old in a jar to completely fresh out of the sea, sometimes with its light elements still glowing, sometimes alive.
“When they’re fresh, you’ll see all kinds of features that you don’t see after they’ve been preserved.
“But I think my favorite group of deep-sea fish is the angler, it’s amazing to see them.
“We have a lot of juveniles, some very rare and never seen before.”
One of the specimens collected during the trip was Sloan’s viperfish.
This animal is believed to have the highest tooth-to-head ratio of any animal.
The fish, which grows to no more than about 10 inches, has sharp fangs about half the size of its head.
Last October, RRS Discovery set off from Southampton on a 9,000-mile journey to the South Atlantic to explore some of the planet’s most remote marine environments.
The researchers also collected several species from a depth of 1,000 meters, and sampling was carried out from 400 to 700 meters.
The trip formed part of the UK Government’s Blue Belt programme, which works closely with the UK’s overseas territories to help them manage and maintain healthy and productive marine environments.
Museum scientists Chris Fletcher, Research Assistant (Marine Invertebrates), and John Ablett, Senior Curator, Mollusca, were also on the trip.
Specimens of cephalopods, flying fish and other marine life including shrimp were collected.
Crews on board worked 24 hours a day during most of the sampling period.
During the day, the teams analyzed the ocean floor, including sampling the ocean floor thousands of meters below the surface, and at night they lowered nets into the water and slowly pulled them to collect samples.
Explaining some of the mission’s objectives, Fletcher said his role was to help identify all the crustaceans found and help select all the specimens on board.
He also helped collect tissue samples when the species were fresh so they could be used for DNA barcoding and whole genome sequencing.
Mr. Fletcher told PA: “So whole genome sequencing is where we trace the entire genetic code of organisms.
“This is very important so we can first find out how these genes relate to different biological functions and body systems in each organism.
“We can also do large evolutionary studies and population studies, which are very important.”
The information gathered from the samples is available to researchers around the world, who can use the database to inform their studies.
NHM researchers were able to analyze the species eaten by the fish they collected, shedding light on the food web and diets of these species.
The trip was organized by CEFAS, the Center for Environmental Science, Fisheries and Aquaculture, to help understand how to better protect marine ecosystems.
International Oceans Minister Lord Benyon said: “RRS Discovery’s expedition to the remote islands of Ascension Island and St Helena was an exciting endeavor to gather knowledge – from a greater understanding of little-known species to the discovery of undersea landscapes. The unknown and evidence of thriving marine ecosystems.
“The UK Blue Belt program was set up to help protect and improve the health of our oceans and prevent biodiversity loss, and by funding pioneering innovation like this, we’re helping to move the UK forward in protecting the world’s oceans by 30% by 2030.
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