Oceana has joined marine scientists from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the University of the Philippines (UP) in the 2016 expedition to Benham Rise. The United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf recognized the extended continental shelf jutting from Benham Rise as the Philippines' newest territory in 2012.
The team is exploring Benham Bank, the shallowest portion of the vast seamount, on board the government research vessel MV DA-BFAR. The underwater plateau serves as a refuge and nursery for many economically important fish. Benham Bank is blanketed with coral assemblages, sponges, and algae in what is known as the mesophotic zone, found at depths of up to 150 meters. Organisms found in this area can tolerate low light penetration.
Oceana provided a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and technical diver-videographers during the expedition, to get more footage and allow researchers to analyze the marine life in Benham Bank more extensively. Marine scientists also made use of the baited remote underwater video system (BRUVS) to measure fish populations. This equipment uses footage from two cameras attached to a frame with fish-bait at the center, and specially licensed software to estimate fish sizes and analyze the maximum number of fish seen at any one time.
During a previous exploration of Benham Bank in 2014, researchers found more than 50 species of fish and a thick cover of tiered plate corals. Back then, the research team led by UP and BFAR scientists was able to dive for 25 minutes and film at a depth of 50 meters. This time around, the team has documented more than 200 fish species and a dazzling array of soft and hard corals, algae, and sponges with the aid of modern technology.
With the wealth of new information uncovered in this year's expedition, Oceana hopes to highlight the ecological importance of Benham Rise and encourage the protection of its marine resources.