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Exploring the Azores: A Pristine Seas Scientific Expedition

June 3 2018

In partnership with the Oceano Azul Foundation, the Waitt Foundation, and the Regional Government of the Azores, our National Geographic Pristine Seas team is conducting a scientific expedition to explore the waters around Portugal’s Azores archipelago. Their goal is to study the marine environments of these volcanic islands and their neighboring seamounts, from nearshore ecosystems to the lesser-known deep-sea and open ocean areas. Join us here and on our Instagram @natgeopristineseas to follow the adventure!

June 3 2018


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Preparation Stage

Perfect conditions here at Gigante Seamount - which means we can do our work programme under sail!

Congrats on the new discovery team!!

The tiny island of Corvo is a great place to re-connect with the simplicity of the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPA's).

Ten years ago the community established their small MPA which is right in front of the village and next to the busy harbour. The positive effects of the MPA are obvious - we saw many more grouper inside the MPA than outside and of course the "spillover" effect from the MPA means that all of the Corvo coastal waters benefit from it's protection and health.

I had some great dives there with large groupers, over 1 meter long, for company and let's face it - they live just outside the village, they are not difficult to catch and they taste delicious! If they weren't protected they would be gone.

We celebrated our first day at Corvo with an update of our statistics to date:

73 science sites Pelagic remote cameras 95 deployments Shallow water remote cameras 30 deployments Deep water drop cameras 23 deployments Deep static remote cameras 24 deployments Dives 400

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I love our science results and am the first to say that the science data sets themselves are a thing of beauty. But here at Corvo, our expediton GIS wizard Fernando Tempera, has produced this incredible image of our work areas.


I love the start of a Pristine Seas expedition: A year of planning and anticipation becomes a living, vital, beautiful thing! We come alive as we all meet up again as a team, unload shipping containers, load the ship, unpack our boxes, build the Zodiacs, mount outboard engines, fill the diving cylinders, commission and check every single expedition item. It means long hours, heavy loads and requires that magic ability to just make everything work in a short space of time on an unfamiliar vessel. I'm at my happiest on these days, as we do this in great style!

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Expedition Background

The waters surrounding Portugal’s Azores archipelago harbor some of the most important ecosystems in the North Atlantic. Neighboring the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the waters of this volcanic archipelago also conceal numerous seamounts that are hotspots for megafauna, providing key feeding grounds for migrating species, including blue and fun whales. But there is still much to learn about the marine environments and biodiversity around these islands. That’s where our expedition begins:

Our robust and diverse expedition team of scientists, filmmakers, science communicators, and explorers results from the collaboration of National Geographic’s Pristine Seas, the Oceano Azul Foundation, the Waitt Foundation, and the Regional Government of Azores. Together, we are setting out to sea aboard the Santa María Manuela, a traditional cod-fishing ship now used for scientific expeditions like our own. Our goal is to carry out a comprehensive scientific survey of the Azorean waters and all the life within them, as well as to document this process through film and photography. This is just one salient part of a broader strategy focused on the conservation and sustainable use of the natural marine heritage of the Azores.

Over the course of the expedition, we’ll travel from the island of Faial to the islands of Corvo, Flores, Pico, and the Princess Alice Bank, as well as the nearby seamounts that are hotspots for tuna, sharks, whales and dolphins. Little is known about the deep sea and open ocean areas in these waters. To fully explore the marine ecosystems in this area, we’ll be using a range of methods and tools: remote underwater video and open-water cameras to record pelagic species, in-situ SCUBA dive surveys to measure the abundance and diversity of fish, and deployment of acoustic and satellite tags onto marine megafauna. We’ll also use deep-water drop cameras and ROVs to record and assess vulnerable marine ecosystems around the unexplored seamounts. With multibeam mapping technologies, new maps of the deep sea areas, seamounts, and shallow coastlines will be produced that can guide the scientific efforts. And of course, using the most advanced technologies, we’ll use our experienced observers aboard the research vessel to do a census of marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, and even visible pollution.

Follow us here as we bring you dispatches over the course of our three-week expedition, recounting what we are documenting, doing, and observing in these incredible waters.