Europe and Central Asia
11 Aug 2017

Journey to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

RRS Discovery © National Oceanography Centre
By Marguerite Tarzia & Gui-Xi Young

BirdLife readers ahoy! Our Marine Conservation Officer, Marguerite Tarzia has recently returned from a month-long scientific expedition across the wild North Atlantic aboard the research vessel RSS Discovery. Throughout the voyage, she chronicled her adventures in exploration and discovery in her blog, Journey to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. You can catch-up on the whole story right here!  

A map that holds the secrets of the wild open ocean…a map that pinpoints the precise location of untold treasures – X marks the spot. Sounds like you have dived right into a Jules Verne novel doesn’t it? Is this fabled Atlantis finally found? Are we 20,000 leagues under the sea? Well, here at BirdLife, we find science to be stranger, and more spectacular, than fiction. Welcome to Journey to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a blog in which our Marine Conservation Officer, Marguerite Tarzia, chronicles her month-long voyage (6th June – 2nd July) across the high seas with a team of international scientists on the RRS Discovery.


Exploration and Discovery

The Discovery is part of the NERC (Natural Environment Research Council, UK) research fleet and is operated by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC). The expedition, led by University of Glasgow scientist Dr. Ewan Wakefield, took a crack team of marine experts (specializing in ocean fronts, seabirds, cephalopods, cetaceans and phytoplankton) from Southampton in the UK to the ecologically fabled ‘Evlanov Seamount & Basin’ – a region of the sub-Polar Front (SPF) of the North Atlantic, just south of the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone CGFZ). This is where the North Atlantic Current crosses the mid-Atlantic ridge and, exciting, where new bird data-tracking research suggests that is a treasure trove of marine biodiversity. 

Expedition route © NERC


X marks the spot

Following rigorous, and highly innovative, analysis by a massive collaboration of over 60 seabird scientists, our BirdLife marine team has identified an ecologist’s paradise. Data-tracking shows the ‘Evlanov’ site to be a seabird magnet, being the area of the North East Atlantic with both the highest number of bird species (it’s an important foraging ground for at least 19) and the highest number of individual birds. It is estimated (and conservatively so), that the area supports at least 2.9 million seabirds throughout the year. Moreover, the area has been found to be an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) for 12 species, including the threatened Atlantic Puffin, Bermuda Petrel, Northern Fulmar and Zino’s Petrel as well as long-distance migrants such as the indefatigable Arctic Tern, which undertakes the longest migration of any other animal.


Great shearwaters feeding in the North-East Atlantic © Marguerite Tarzia


The Circle of (marine) Life

Seabirds are an intrinsic part of the ‘circle of (marine) life’ – what flies above the waves can tell us a lot about what swims below. As seabirds are more easily monitored than their underwater counterparts, they are an ideal ‘homing beacon’ to use to identify important marine biodiversity sites. We therefore embarked on our journey, hoping to find a site rich in marine megafauna such as Blue and Mako Sharks, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, and Leatherback Turtles. Sei Whales have also been tracked here from the Azores during their northward migration in summer. Interestingly, it appears that as these animals approach this unique area, changes in temperature and currents spur their natural instinct into action, prompting them to begin foraging activities. 


Striped Dolphin © Gui Bortolotto



This October, we plan to submit a proposal to OSPAR (The ‘Oslo Paris’ Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic) that the site be safeguarded with the internationally recognized designation of Marine Protected Area (MPA). Our expedition, this month, was the first research trip to this area and our work – sampling seabirds and their environment directly at sea – has been an important first step towards better understanding the science of this site. The more we know about the marine riches out there, the better we can ensure their protection.


Sunset over the Evlanov Seamount & Basin © Marguerite Tarzia


All aboard and anchors aweigh! – catch up on all the blog posts right here:

So join Marguerite on her exciting Journey to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and feel as if you’re standing on deck at her side and she explores the wild high seas.

6th June 2017 – All aboard and full steam ahead!

12th June 2017 – 'Fish Chum' & Stormy Seas

14th June 2017 – Squid pro quo

16th June 2017 – A Whale of a Time

19th June 2017 – The Sound of the Sea

22nd June 2017 – Seabirds - Predators of the Open Ocean

27th June 2017 – The Mysterious Mid-Atlantic

29th June 2017 – Follow that bird!

30th June 2017 – Looking to the horizon

3rd July 2017 – Land in sight


Marguerite Tarzia – European Marine Conservation Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

Gui-Xi Young – Editor & Campaigns Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

Read the whole blog here

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.