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New methodology for long-term studies of coral reefs

As part of a new project, the Institute of Marine Research is going to monitor life around a coral reef for a year by placing an observation platform equipped with a camera and echo sounders close to the reef. With a wind turbine on the surface providing power and a broadband connection, it will be possible to live stream the goings on around the coral reef.

By Kjartan Mæstad


The observation platform is lowered into the water for a quick test just before departure from Bergen.

Photo: Kjartan Mæstad

To date we mainly have still photos of coral reefs. The coral observatory will allow us to study daily and seasonal variations.

New insight

“This project will give us new insight into life in and around coral reefs. The observation platforms take continuous readings that can give us a better idea of how fish and other species behave around the reefs, and how different species of fish, plankton and corals interact. We also hope to learn something about how various environmental factors affect coral reefs. For example, we want to observe how they feed in relation to currents and the type of particles in the water," says researcher Jan Helge Fosså at the Institute of Marine Research.

Important area

Vesterålen and Lofoten are an important fish recruitment area, and they are also home to large numbers of cold-water corals. The most famous coral reef in the area is the protected Røstrevet.
At the same time there is a great deal of interest in exploring the oil and gas deposits in the area, which has led to debate as to whether exploration should be permitted there, or whether the area should be protected.
“Before we consider permitting oil and gas exploration in Vesterålen and Lofoten, it is important to investigate and document the local ecosystem. As its contribution to that process, the Institute of Marine Research has designed and built two observation platforms to collect physical, biological and environmental data over time,” explains researcher Eirik Tenningen.

Dedicated website

The instrument platform, referred to as the “coral observatory”, will be located 268 metres below sea level, near a coral reef in the Hola trench (see map). The research vessel “G.O. Sars” will be used to put the platform in position. “G.O. Sars” has a web camera on its bridge. A link to the web camera can be found in the menu on the right.
The coral observatory is equipped with a camera that will follow the development of a coral colony over an extended period of time. In addition it has two echo sounders that will monitor marine life in a larger area around the coral reef.
Tenningen is expecting to get new detailed information about plankton and fish in the area, an insight into how coral reefs affect the distribution and behaviour of fish and important information about how coral reefs are formed and grow, as well as about what can damage them.

A complex combination of advanced instruments is needed to obtain this information. You can read more about that on the project’s website
That is where updates will be published once the observation platform is in place, and eventually photos and echograms of the seabed will be shown in real time.