A study that was published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science found that submarine canyons are at risk from human activities. According to the researchers, which are part of the International Network for submarine Canyon Investigation and Scientific Exchange (INCISE), the canyons require better protection.
According to the researchers, submarine canyons are major geomorphic features of continental margins. Overall, there are almost 10,000 large canyons worldwide.
Studies have found that these canyons play an important ecological role as well as benefit human populations. However, human activities have caused some bad consequences to the canyons’ overall ecological condition.
According to the scientists, human activities such as fishing, littering and dumping of land-based mine tailings have affected the canyons. Other activities that impact these also include oil and gas extraction.
However, the effects of climate change could increase the intensity of currents within canyons. This could affect their structure as well as their functioning, causing changes to the food supply of the deep-ocean ecosystem.
“Our review not only identifies the ecological importance of canyons, but also highlights the need for a better understanding of anthropogenic impacts on canyon ecosystems,” said the study’s lead author, Ulla Fernandez-Arcaya from Spain. The canyons require different types of research to find out more data on how to protect their ecosystems. As of now, only 10 percent of canyons around the world are completely protected by marine protected areas.
However, such areas are not evenly distributed worldwide. The protection is also primarily focused on the shallow parts of the canyons, even if protecting the complete systems is essential since they also play an important role in the connection of shallow and deep waters.
“Submarine canyons are essential habitats that provide habitat to rich faunal communities and can provide habitat for the early stages of some species and refuge for others. They can also support rich fisheries. The abrupt and complex terrain of submarine canyons has partly slowed down their detailed investigation,” said the review’s second author, Dr Eva Ramirez-Llodra, a marine biologist at the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) in Oslo.
The second author says, however, that novel technologies are allowing scientists to better understand the ecosystems of the canyons and use their natural resources. So developing management and conservation strategies based on scientific knowledge is appropriate. The researchers are part of INCISE, which is an initiative that aspire to bring together scientists who are working in some kind of submarine canyon research.