American Bank: Divers to the Rescue!
In 2011, Fisheries and Oceans Canada selected the American Bank and its surrounding area, located on the eastern tip of the Gaspe Peninsula, as an area of interest for a marine protected area. This initiative supports Canada’s goal to increase the proportion of the country's marine and coastal areas that are protected to 10% by 2020.
The area of interest measures 1,000 km² and is characterized by a sharp, 12-metre deep ridge surrounded by sandy plains. This distinctive geological area is bathed in plankton-rich water, providing diverse habitats for a wide variety of species.
Although this area is teeming with life, little is known about it. A scientific team at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute has therefore been exploring this underwater world since 2012. Their work is helping to broaden our knowledge of sea floor habitats and the species that live there, and make it possible to implement the most appropriate measures to protect this unique environment.
An ecological inventory was first performed using high-definition digital imaging equipment placed on the sea floor or installed on a small sled and towed by a research vessel. Over 115 types of organisms have been identified this way. Although this method is effective and has little impact on the environment, it has its limitations. The American Bank’s jagged landscape means the equipment cannot reach every corner. A team of divers was called in to explore the inaccessible sectors. Armed with photo and video cameras, they scoured the rocky cavities looking for the Atlantic wolffish and other species hiding in the crevices. There is an incredible variety of marine species near the sea floor! Despite the cold and the current, divers chose interesting subjects and angles: a passing school of Atlantic cod and tench, a pair of Atlantic wolffish, and an abundance of other organisms parading before the camera lenses.
In the short term, the new information will further our knowledge and help us to better describe this unique environment, and the images will give the public an idea of the richness of the environment. In the longer term, regular monitoring of the inventoried sites will help us to determine if the protective measures adopted are beneficial, both to the marine environment and to those carrying out activities there.
Catherine Laurian, Ecosystems Management
François Roy, Science