Schmidt Ocean Institute

New Deep Sea Exploration Initiative Launches

31 Oct 23 /

New Initiative Launches to Support Deep Ocean Exploration and Conservation in Galapagos and the Eastern Tropical Pacific

The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a $7 million grant to support deep-ocean conservation in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) from the Bezos Earth Fund ($5 million) and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation ($2 million). The grant will be used to advance in-country exploration and research on deep-water habitats and seamounts within the ETP, to engage and inform better management of deep-ocean multi-country seascapes.

The ETP conceals diverse and vast deep-ocean ecosystems, spanning depths from 200 to 3800m – as deep as 10 Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other. Interconnected by currents across deep sea ridges, seamounts, tectonic plates, submerged islands, and underwater pinnacles, they represent, at a global scale, the most extensive living space on the planet. Deep-ocean ecosystems play a vital role in regulating the global climate and providing essential goods and services to people around the world. However, they are also facing a number of threats, including overfishing, climate change, and the prospect of deep-sea mining.

Isla Santiago. Foto: Andrés Cruz, FCD
Santiago Island. Photo: Andrés Cruz, CDF.

The grant, which will support the project over five years, will bring together researchers from Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Panama, as well as the global deep-water community to work together to improve critical knowledge of deep-ocean ecosystems in existing, newly established, and potential deep-water marine protected areas (MPAs) in the ETP. The project will work closely with MPA managers to increase representative deep-water habitat protection across national Exclusive Economic Zones.

"Great strides have been made at national levels to safeguard areas of outstanding biological importance in the ETP, and several world-renowned marine protected areas have been created in the region spanning Galapagos (Ecuador), Cocos (Costa Rica), Coiba (Panamá), Malpelo and Gorgona (Colombia). However, we are only beginning to understand and appreciate the hidden dimensions of existing deep-water reserves and their adjacent areas," said Stuart Banks, senior marine scientist at CDF. "We are grateful to the Bezos Earth Fund and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for their generous support in launching this groundbreaking project in the region which is about exploration and collaboration, in our quest to understand these important ecosystems and to develop the scientific knowledge needed to protect them.”

When part of a wider network, marine protected areas bolster ocean resilience in the face of climate impacts and are essential tools to manage our oceans. Nonetheless they are rarely conceived between countries and often without knowledge of deep-water conservation features. Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Panama are breaking this paradigm via a regional initiative to create a transboundary marine corridor encompassing core marine protected areas in the ETP, known as the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor (CMAR).

Cristián Samper, Managing Director and Leader for Nature Solutions at the Bezos Earth Fund, said: “The deep ocean is essential to the health of our planet and climate, but it is also one of the most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth. Despite their enormous ecological role and extension, the effective integration of deep-water habitats into marine planning measures has been limited. This is where we see scientific collaboration as the key to inform novel management models for protected areas as well as discover and protect new areas. We are proud to support this important work to protect the deep ocean in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.”

The project is to be based at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands, where a Deep Ocean Exploration Facility will be established. The project will invite a working coalition that includes researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) who are undertaking analogous work in Panama, INVEMAR in Colombia and the University of Costa Rica. Together, these institutions will work to bridge knowledge gaps relevant to the management of ocean areas across the wider region and help address those conservation priorities for ecologically connected marine reserves and adjacent waters.  

Genny Biggs, Program Director for Special Projects at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation added: “The logistical challenges and costs associated with accessing deep-water systems have historically been a barrier to furthering our understanding of the deep sea, and of the implications of those discoveries for conservation. We have so many new species to discover, and ecosystems to understand, we are only scratching the surface. Today, we are delighted to lend our support to this important and collaborative project, to advance ocean conservation in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world”.


Media contacts:

Ambre Tanty- Lamothe, Charles Darwin Foundation


Claire Pfitzinger, Bezos Earth Fund


About the Organizations

Charles Darwin Foundation

The Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands is an international nonprofit that has been present in the Galapagos since 1959, thanks to an agreement with the Government of Ecuador. Its mission is to tackle the greatest threats and challenges to Galapagos through scientific research and conservation action, in order to safeguard one of the world’s most important natural treasures. At present, CDF manages over 25 research and conservation projects and is the custodian of more than 135,000 specimens within its Natural History Collections.

Bezos Earth Fund

The Bezos Earth Fund is transforming the fight against climate change with the largest ever philanthropic commitment to climate and nature protection. We're investing $10 billion in this decisive decade to protect nature and drive systems-level change, creating a just transition to a low-carbon economy. By providing funding and expertise, we partner with organizations to accelerate innovation, break down barriers to success and create a more equitable and sustainable world. Join us in our mission to create a world where people prosper in harmony with nature.

Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. Visit Moore.org or follow @MooreFound.

Andres Cruz

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