The last few months since my last post have probably been the busiest career period in my life so far! A quick recap:

Expeditions

I participated in my second expedition on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in December 2017. Some similarity in that I returned as Co-Lead but lots of differences as we were exploring the Gulf of Mexico. You can find out more about this expedition here.

The story by bioGraphic from the expedition to St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s Rocks in the Atlantic Ocean was finally released. If you want an entertaining story with great photos and video of the deep-ocean exploration and awesome technology, head over here for more. Some great outreach and exploration!

New Ventures

I started my Marie Sklodowska Curie fellowship with Dr. Adrian Glover at the Natural History Museum in London. My focus will be human impacts on the deep ocean, especially deep-sea mining. Here’s a link to the lab webpage.

I’ve joined the leadership of the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative working group that focuses on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ). This group aims to provide advice and information to policymakers involved in the BBNJ process being undertaken at the United Nations currently.

I’m part of an awesome team that was just funded by National Geographic and the Inter-American Development Bank to test a pilot program to explore the deep ocean of two Small Island Developing States while simultaneously building lasting capacity. You can find out more about our project, ‘My Deep Sea, My Backyard’ here.

Meetings and Workshops

MIT Media Lab hosted ‘Here Be Dragons’, an event dedicated to identifying the uncharted territories that still exist in ocean exploration in February. I was invited to speak in the session addressing ‘How can we ensure a thriving ocean for generations to come?’. You can watch a full recording of all talks here.

The Royal Society hosted a workshop on the draft regulations for the exploitation of mineral resources in the Area: policy, legal and institutional considerations in London, which I was invited to attend by the Royal Society and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK. You can find the full report from this workshop here.

I attended Ocean Sciences Meeting in Oregon, USA, for the first time where I chaired a session on Exploration of the Pacific Deep Sea on behalf of NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

I participated in the Council Session of the International Seabed Authority in Jamaica in March 2018 wth Dr. Judith Gobin on behalf of the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative. A full report of that can be found here.

I was invited by the International Seabed Authority and United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States to share my experience as one of the few female deep-sea biologists from a vulnerable country at a side event, ‘Enhancing the Role of Women in Marine Deep Sea Scientific Research to Achieve the Goals and Targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the Vulnerable Countries’, at the United Nations in New York in March 2018. You can find more information here.

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Outreach

Coming soon!

 

One of my most special research papers has been published! It is the first of my papers to focus on the deep sea around my home country, Trinidad and Tobago. It also looks to stewardship and conservation of our seas, it is open access so that is available to increase readership, and it is a collaboration between an awesome group of female marine scientists! Check out the below synopsis as well as the paper for more information!

83 deep-sea species, with several new to science, found at cold seeps in areas vulnerable to oil and gas exploitation.

For the first time, local marine biologists (Drs. Diva Amon and Judith Gobin) have investigated the deep sea off Trinidad and Tobago, discovering two new cold seeps hosting unique communities of animals. The discovery, made almost a mile deep, reveals important information about the biodiversity of the deep ocean around Trinidad and Tobago. Additionally, it enables comparisons with similar habitats elsewhere in the Caribbean.

“These communities are absolutely amazing: hundreds of thousands of 8-inch deep-sea mussels, as well as 3-foot tubeworms, crabs, shrimp, snails and fishes were found living at the seeps between 1000 and 1650 metres depth” says Dr. Amon, a postdoctoral researcher. “The information gained from this study is crucial to understanding Trinidad and Tobago’s almost entirely unknown deep ocean, especially given the increasing oil and natural gas exploration and exploitation”.

Amon is lead author of a research paper reporting the work this week in the scientific journal Frontiers in Marine Science, in collaboration with Dr. Judith Gobin of the Department of Life Sciences at The University of the West Indies, and colleagues from Duke University, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of Southampton, and the Ocean Exploration Trust.

Eighty-three species of animals were recorded from extensive seep communities at four sites, two previously known and two new. The newly discovered seep sites have been named after two Trinbagonian female folklore characters: La Diablesse and Mama D’Leau. One of the most remarkable discoveries was that during the surveys in this area, 85 further sites were detected off the east coast of Trinidad.

Cold seeps are areas where fluids rich in hydrogen sulfide and methane leak from the seafloor, similar to hydrothermal vents. This fluid provides the energy to sustain large communities of life in the harsh conditions that exist in the deep sea (no light, approximately 4°C temperature and more than 100 atmospheres of pressure). At cold seeps, bacteria create food via chemosynthesis in the absence of light, using the chemicals in the fluid, in a similar way to plants, which use sunlight for photosynthesis. These microbes use the oxygen in seawater to oxidize the chemicals present in the seep fluids and form the basis of the food chain at these environments. These bacteria can form thick white mats or live inside many of the animals at these seep sites including the mussels, tubeworms and clams providing food directly. Other organisms such as snails and shrimp seen at the new sites may feed directly on the bacterial mats, in turn providing food for eelpout fish, crabs and other predators. As a result, cold seeps are oases of life, patchy areas of huge abundances of unique endemic animals.

“These cold-seep sites and the associated fauna, were an exciting find that I can now use as real examples of our own deep-sea, for my students” says Dr. Gobin. “I am extremely pleased to be engaging in this cutting-edge exploration and science in Trinidad and Tobago waters” says Gobin.

Species of a purple octopus, a white sponge and an orange anemone were also discovered and being new to science, do not yet have names. Many of the animals are also poorly understood, such as a species of eelpout fish that lives amongst the mussels, Pachycara caribbaeum, that is known from only one other small site in the Cayman Trench.

Unfortunately, these newly discovered areas are already under threat. These cold seeps, potentially Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs), will likely be irreparably damaged by drilling and associated oil and gas activities. Scientific research in this area is struggling to keep up with such commercial activities and without targeted actions, these species and their habitats may be lost before they are even studied. The authors list a number of recommendations for the stewardship and conservation of these deep-sea habitats.

Drs. Amon and Gobin hope that this is just the beginning for deep-sea science in Trinidad and Tobago. “Not only are we blessed with an amazing diversity of life on land and in shallow waters here in Trinidad and Tobago’,” says Amon, “but also down in the deep sea. Only when we understand what exactly exists in the depths of our waters will we be able to protect and manage this biodiversity”.

Drs. Amon and Gobin are continuing to collaborate on several other deep-sea projects focused on the Caribbean, including the naming and description of the new species. Dr. Gobin and NIHERST are presently working on an educational deep-sea DVD series and are actively seeking funding for the series, which is almost completed.

The findings presented in this study were as a result of a deep-sea exploratory mission on board the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus in 2014 that Drs. Amon and Gobin were selected to join. The E/V Nautilus is a 64-meter research vessel operated the Ocean Exploration Trust. The ship carries with it two Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), Hercules and Argus, which explore the seafloor and can be viewed in real time online at www.nautiluslive.org.

The full reference for the scientific paper reporting this research is:
Amon DJ, Gobin J, Van Dover CL, Levin LA, Marsh L and Raineault NA (2017) Characterization of Methane-Seep Communities in a Deep-Sea Area Designated for Oil and Natural Gas Exploitation Off Trinidad and Tobago. Front. Mar. Sci. 4:342. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00342, published online at
https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2017.00342/full

You can also find out more about the expedition in 2014 here.

 

Here’s another mega post summarising my news from the last three months. It covers my papers published, the Chemosynthesis-Based Ecosystems conference and DOSI day, and some recent deep-sea science communication I did.

Papers

  • Amon, D.J., A. Ziegler, J. Drazen, A. Grischenko, A. Leitner, D. Lindsay, J. Voight, M. Wicksten, C. Young, C. Smith, 2017. Megafauna of the UKSRL exploration contract area and eastern Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific Ocean: Annelida, Arthropoda, Bryozoa, Chordata, Ctenophora, MolluscaBiodiversity Data Journal 5: e14598. 10.3897/BDJ.5.e14598
  • Lindh, M.V., B.M. Maillot, C.N. Shulse, A.J. Gooday, D.J. Amon, C.R. Smith, M.J. Church, 2017. From the Surface to the Deep-Sea: Bacterial Distributions across Polymetallic Nodule Fields in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean. Frontiers in Microbiology 8: 1696. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2017.01696
  • Smith, C.R., D.J. Amon, N.D. Higgs, A.G. Glover, E.L. Young, 2017. Data are inadequate to test whale falls as chemosynthetic stepping-stones using network analysis: faunal overlaps do support a stepping-stone role. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 20171281. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.1281

DOSI day and Chemosynthesis-Based Ecosystems conference

On August 27th to September 1st 2017, I attended the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI) Meeting and the 6th Chemosynthesis-Based Ecosystems conference (CBE) at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MA, USA.  The week proved to be incredibly enjoyable, inspiring and valuable! I presented research I’ve been doing over the last few months on the incredible methane seeps found in areas that may be exploited for oil and gas off Trinidad and Tobago. All in all, it was a great week filled with informative conversations, many old friends and colleagues, thought-provoking scientific talks and maybe even the beginnings of some future collaborations.

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DOSI Day participants at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Photo credit: Lisa Levin.
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My presentation on the methane seeps off Trinidad and Tobago. Photo credit: Emily Young.

Science Communication and Outreach

Now that I am in Trinidad, one of my goals is to increase the public’s awareness of the deep ocean. Here is my third article about the Caribbean deep sea (focused on the Kick’em Jenny submarine volcano this time) that was simultaneously published on the Wild Tobago blog and in the Tobago Newsday on 24th August 2017. You can find out more about my previous Caribbean deep-sea articles here.

Kick'em Jenny cold seeps
Mussels and sea cucumbers at Kick’em Jenny cold seeps. Photo credit: Ocean Exploration Trust

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, one of my goals while I am in Trinidad is to increase the public’s awareness of the deep ocean. I’ve already done one talk at the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalist Club on the deep sea around Trinidad and Tobago. Below you can find two articles that I’ve written about the deep ocean.

  1. To commemorate four years since my journey down into the Cayman Trench in the Shinkai6500 submersible, I’ve written a two part article on the experience. The first part was published in the Trinidad Newsday on 15th June 2017 and the second part on 22nd June 2017.
  2. I also wrote an article about the deep sea around Trinidad and Tobago that was simultaneously published on the Wild Tobago blog and in the Tobago Newsday on 22nd June 2017.
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HOV Shinkai6500 being launched. Photo credit: Diva Amon.

 

On Monday 19th June, I will be heading out to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to explore the deep ocean and mesophotic reefs around St Peter & St Paul Archipelago for three weeks with a team of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientists and California Academy of Sciences scientists and media. This area is super interesting because it is the only place in the Atlantic where the Earth’s mantle breaks the surface of the ocean. This means that there will be all manner of weird geology, which will likely get even stranger the deeper we explore! This will be the first time that this area has ever been explored so whatever we find will be exciting! A best-case scenario would be to find hydrothermal vents similar to those seen at Lost City, which are currently one of a kind. If not, we could find a seamount-like habitat laden with deep-sea sponges and coral.

It will be my first time sailing on the M/V Alucia and OMG, I am excited! One of the best things about this expedition is that we’re using the Alucia‘s submersibles, Nadir and Deep Rover, to do our deep-sea exploration and sampling!

Follow my updates on Twitter: @DivaAmon
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The M/V Alucia launching one of her submersibles. Photo credit: Alucia Productions.