Small vehicle gets big results during undersea survey

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AN underwater vehicle has explored mountains hidden deep under the sea and recorded sea creatures that need special protection.

The Falcon ROV – remotely operated vehicle – was built by Saab Seaeye, in Whiteley, and is operated by Oceana, the world’s largest ocean conservation organisation.

The small vehicle has explored undersea mountains in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and found species from carnivorous sponges to lobsters and sharks.

The exploration is a first, as previous programmes ignored the deep-sea areas due to lack of technology.

Oceana started the current project about 150 miles off the Portuguese coast in the range of marine mountains called the Gorringe Bank.

Scientists filmed algae forests and hundreds of species, and noted the ecological value that undersea mountains give to many species.

Oceana’s director of research in Europe, Ricardo Aguilar, says they have found species whose existence on the Gorringe Bank was unknown, and in an ecosystem that needs conservation.

He adds that when they later explored the Chella Bank – offshore Almeria in south-east Spain – they found protected species such as a carnivorous sponge and angular rough shark at risk from damage to their habitat by recreational and commercial fishing.

He said that being able to use the Falcon for hundreds of hours of filming has helped gather essential data.

‘Filming rocky sites at various depths requires a high degree of technical complexity,’ he added.

‘Being able to use transects – the more complex operation of moving the ROV along a path, rather than directly up and down – has given a more comprehensive view of the area.

‘Its five powerful thrusters make precise manoeuvrability possible and keep the vehicle steady in strong currents whilst filming and collecting samples when needed.’