MAR-ECO – the deep sea research behind the game.


A story about natural scientists and their work.

MAR-ECO  is an international deep sea research project in which scientists from 16 nations take part. Norway, represented by the Institute of Marine Research and the University of Bergen, co-ordinates the project which will enhance our understanding of occurrence, distribution and ecology of animals and animal communities along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Iceland and the Azores. The project, which started in 2001 and lasts until 2010, is an element of the Census of Marine Life (

The expedition summer 2004

Exploring life in the mid-Atlantic at various depths down to 4 km (2.5 miles), 60 scientists from 13 countries on a two-month expedition summer 2004 have surfaced a wealth of new information and insights, stunning images and marine life specimens, several thought to be species never before known to science.

Using remotely-operated deep-sea vehicles, hydroacoustics and other technologies for sampling and remote observation, the Norwegian-led MAR-ECO Expedition, part of Census of Marine Life, has captured or recorded rare and also new species of squid and fish, measured the abundance of life, and advanced knowledge of – while raising new questions about – many other aspects of the Mid-Atlantic ecosystem.

The diversity of animal communities in mid-water and along the bottom in a major section of the global system of mid-oceanic ridges has been documented using an arsenal of methods and technologies. Thus far recorded are around 300 fish species, 50 squids and octopods, and an unknown number of planktonic species yet to be identified and enumerated.
Rings of planktonic organisms observed by echosounders, massed by underwater forces into circular structures measuring more than 10 km wide, an example of underwater “physical-biological coupling” and thought to be the largest such structures ever recorded.

Repeated observations of a reefbuilding cold-water coral known as Lophelia pertusa. No major reefs were found, but it is now documented that the species occurs along this section of the mid-Atlantic Ridge.

New insights into the significance and ecology of the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone and the Sub-Polar Front.

Two specimens of the rare Aphyonus gelatinosus, a strange bottom-dwelling, semi-transparent fish covered in a gelatinous layer, recorded only once before in the North Atlantic.

A new deep-sea mystery in the form of burrows left by an animal at 2000 meters on a seamount north of the Azores. The lines of evenly-spaced, 5 cm-wide holes create the impression of someone having “used a sewing machine to create this landscape,” according to the researchers. While the suspected burrower is a large crustacean or deep-sea blind lobster, several questions linger. “Perhaps each line is a burrow with multiple entries, or is it a succession of burrows with just a single opening, but then how and why can these lines be that straight?”

Also among the more than 80,000 specimens collected:
A deep-sea anglerfish with an unusual head structure and uniquely formed “lure” at the end of the fishing apparatus that sets it apart from the other known members of the Ceratioidei suborder.
An unusual member of the Promachoteuthidae family of squids, distinguished by their small heads and small eyes covered with a semi-opaque pseudo-cornea.
At least one suspected new species of Ophidophormes, one of the most common deep-sea fish orders.

Extensive analyses will be conducted to disprove or verify these and other candidate specimens as new species. (source: Resume_of_the_2004-highlights_english.pdf)

Links to more information about MAR-ECO:

The midatlantic ridge -an oasis of animal communities

MAR-ECO technology