THE University of Cyprus yesterday hosted a presentation by the Oceanographic Centre related to the study of scientific information on underwater life in the Eratosthenes Seamount located in the southern section of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The multifaceted project is a joint effort between the Oceanography Centre and the Department of Fisheries and Marine Research at the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment. The study of underwater life in the area is connected to the expected drilling for hydrocarbons.
A report on marine life in the EEZ was compiled in 2008 by the energy ministry.
The Eratosthenes Seamount is located near the centre of the licence area, primarily in Blocks 7 and 8, but also extending slightly into Blocks 11 and 12, according to the report.
The seamount measures 120 km in length and is 80 km wide at its base. It rises approximately 2,000m from the surrounding abyssal plain, reaching a water depth of 690m at the top of the feature.
Although the geology of the seamount has been studied extensively very little is known about the associated biological communities.
The report said that the only biological study to date by Galil and Zibrowius in 1998 documented the presence of a diverse and rich fauna on the top of the seamount and found invertebrate abundances to be higher than at sites of comparable depth in the eastern Levantine Basin. The same study documented the presence of rare deepwater scleractinian corals as well as commercially important shrimp species.
The surprising faunal diversity and density indicate a uniquely rich environment, possibly an isolated refuge for relict populations of species that have disappeared from the adjacent continental slope. Additional environmental studies of the Eratosthenes Seamount were recommended in the report.
It said the most significant effects of hydrocarbon activities on deepwater corals on the Eratosthenes Seamount could be avoided by requiring licensees to conduct site-specific mitigation for individual projects.
The licence area is also in a region where historical shipwrecks and other submerged archaeological resources are likely to be present. It said these features were susceptible to physical damage from sea floor-disturbing activities such as anchoring, placement of production facilities on the sea floor, and installation of pipelines.
The report recommends that prior to conducting exploration or exploitation activities that involve anchoring, placement of drilling rigs or production facilities on the sea floor, or installation of pipelines, licensees should be required to conduct a remote sensing survey of the sea floor to evaluate the potential for shipwrecks and other submerged archaeological resources.
As it happens, the Eratosthenes Seamount was explored remotely in August 2012 by Dr. Robert Ballard’s exploration ship, E/V Nautilus.
Ballard, who is famed for discovering the wrecks of the Titanic and Bismarck, spent two weeks on the island with a team of geologists, biologists and oceanologists.
EV Nautilus is equipped with state-of-the-art exploration technology and remotely operated vehicles named Hercules and Argus, which were used to view the seafloor with high definition video, take environmental measurements and collect geological and biological samples.