350 species on Gorringe Bank

Oceana documents 350 species on Gorringe Bank (video)

Scientists have identified a wealth of underwater species in Portuguese waters on the Gorringe Bank – 160 nautical miles southwest of Cape St Vincent. The Oceana researchers are now pushing for “protective measures” to safeguard the deepwater seamount – particularly as the likelihood of gas and oil exploration looms ever closer.

Among species identified are some considered vulnerable: corals and sponges crucial for the shelter and protection of many other organisms, for instance. Also pinpointed were “numerous species of commercial interest”, such as swordfish and lobster, basking sharks, loggerhead turtles, fin whales and pilot whales.

“This large number of species – approximately 125 per hectare sampled – is only the beginning”, said Helena Álvarez, a marine scientist at Oceana.
Oceana’s research director Ricardo Aguilar added: ”There are dozens of species which have not been identified yet. We hope that they will provide new data on these ecosystems and facilitate the protection and conservation of this unique enclave”.

Oceana – a non-profit conservation association – began its work on the Gorringe Bank in 2005. It has since undertaken a total of 21 dives with a submarine robot (ROV) which took over 50 hours of film. The study was complemented by another ten hours of film by a team of divers, who also took more than 2.200 photographs.

Ricardo Aguilar said the data “represents one of the most exhaustive contributions to the knowledge base regarding these seamounts, which are of high ecological value and justify the need to initiate a process of protection for the Gorringe Bank. Therefore all the documentation has been made available to Portuguese institutions, with which Oceana is now collaborating, in order to start the conservation process”.

Nonetheless, the team concede that despite the work done to date “further research is needed to gather more information that will help protect both these mountains and numerous other seamounts in the northeast Atlantic that are still unprotected”.

The Gorringe Bank, on the Azores-Gibraltar fault line, was discovered in 1875 during a coast survey undertaken by the United States. It has two distinct peaks and was thought to be one of the trigger points for the great earthquake of 1755 that devastated much of Portugal.