Scientific knowledge of the deep sea and its biodiversity is still very scarce, despite the importance of the ocean for the planet and society. But thanks to technology, it is now possible to learn more about the deep sea.
One of these innovative tools is the lander, a fixed platform, which can be deployed to the seabed by boat. These are non-invasive, quantitative sampling systems that work statically and autonomously. These devices are equipped with cameras, environmental sensors, lighting systems and hard disks to store images and videos, as well as batteries that can last up to 10 months in time-lapse mode.
These devices are being used in the oceanographic campaigns of the LIFE ECOREST project with the aim of gathering information on the state of the seabed, the recovery of the ecosystems, as well as the species of fauna it shelters and their interactions. In particular, corals and gorgonians, the target organisms of the project, are studied.
These landers have been developed and deployed by the ICM-CSIC, in collaboration with the Sarti-mar group of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, which runs the Obsea underwater observatory.
During the project’s oceanographic campaigns, they have remained at anchor in an area of soft substrates. Their mission has been to take images of the seabed every 30 minutes, which will be processed and analysed by the ICM-CSIC scientific team to understand the temporal dynamics and interactions between different species.
With the help of specific cranes, three landers have been installed on the seabed of marine areas undergoing restoration, specifically in fishing protection zones in Palamós, at a depth of between 50 and 380 metres. These devices are taking images of a surface area of about 2.5 m2 for six months.
In the latest LIFE ECOREST campaign, they have been deployed in front of transplanted coral populations, where they will provide images at frequencies between 10 and 30 minutes. They will also be used to assess the interaction of these organisms with the marine environment and with sessile fauna, such as anemones, polychaetes or soft-bodied corals. They will also interact with fish and invertebrates such as crustaceans.
The findings will serve to determine the role of these transplanted populations in the generation of new substrate and habitat conditions. The landers will be the eyes and sensors of the project in these marine protected areas.
The project is carried out on the continental margin of Barcelona and Girona, one of the most diverse areas in the Western Mediterranean, hosting a high richness of species, including some that are threatened. Unfortunately, in these areas it is estimated that over 90% of the seafloor between 50 and 800 meters deep shows signs of degradation, making regeneration challenging.
Therefore, until 2026, the action plan of the LIFE ECOREST project aims to improve the conservation status of deep-sea habitats and demonstrate the effectiveness of participatory management involving the fishing sector.
This initiative, coordinated by the ICM-CSIC, has as partners the Federació Territorial de Confraries de Pescadors de Girona, Fundación Biodiversidad del Ministerio para la Transición Ecológica y el Reto Demográfico, Universitat de Barcelona and WWF España, as well as the financial contribution of the European Union’s LIFE Programme.