Day 16: 6 July 2020

Yesterday morning we arrived on the continental shelf of Iceland – and a stunning panorama of glaciers, volcanoes and the rough cliffs of that beautiful island was awaiting us, immersed in bright sunlight. Not only was the view above the ocean surface great, but the ROV dive along the seafloor was once again a fascinating journey through all sorts of corals, lots of fish, fields of sponges, barnacles, and many more interesting beasties! There is a special interest in coral reefs as they are very important for both the food web and habitat complexity. Whilst to the untrained eye there is hardly any life on the sedimented seafloor, once  solid substrate appears, life flourishes and complex ecosystems develop for all to see. Coral reefs can be vast in their extent and aid in the diversity of live in the surrounding area the improving habitat heterogeneity. Hence preserving coral reefs is a major concern for nature conservation and also for the fishing industry. Within the iAtlantic project, predicting such reef structures from bathymetry and its derivatives (slope, backscatter etc.) using spatial distribution models is an inherent part of our work. Depending on their accuracy, those models can be used to create habitat maps and locate coral reefs without having to conduct costly and time consuming (although really, really nice!) ROV dives. Also, highly accurate models can reduce the need for in-situ sampling, which is carried out more or less blind, though some ground truthing is of course inevitable to feed the models and to examine their performance. Laurence de Clippele from University of Edinburgh, UK, is working in the iAtlantic project and she is the one creating such models. She has provided us with her data that show maps of potential coral reef locations. We are now trying to verify those models by diving in target areas indicated by the models to confirm whether it is a coral reef or not.

As those vulnerable reef structures can become a victim of trawl net fishing, we hope to put those sophisticated complex organisms under protection against human impacts.

Coral reef structure on the Icelandic continental shelf - it's covered with life!

A beautiful big sponge – this specimen is one of the oldest creatures living down there, they live to be centuries old

This crustacean belongs to the family of red king crabs (Lithodidae). Being a decapod, it has five pairs of legs from which the first carries claws. The right claw is always the larger one and used for fighting predators whereas the left is use for taking up food.

Barnacles – they can share the same DNA across the Atlantic. With this, our biologists can tell about their population connection and travel routes

Jellyfish (periphyla periphyla) – its umbrella is around 20-30 cm wide

Hard to see see but it’s there, waiting for some food to come along: a flat and well camouflaged monkfish

A langoustine (Nephrops norvegicus) is making its way across the open seafloor

A ray trying to escape the bright light from the ROV floodlights

Who's this cutie? A Burrowing crustacean!