Anthropogenic disturbance of deep-sea megabenthic assemblages: a study with remotely operated vehicles in the Faroe-Shetland Channel, NE Atlantic
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The effects of local-scale anthropogenic disturbance from active drilling platforms on epibenthic megafaunal abundance, diversity and assemblage pattern were examined in two west of Shetland hydrocarbon fields at 420 and 508 m water depth. These areas were selected to include a range of disturbance regimes and contrasting faunal assemblages associated with different temperature regimes. Remotely operated vehicle (ROV) video provided high-resolution megafaunal abundance and diversity data, which were related to the extent of visible disturbance from drilling spoil. These data, in conjunction with a study deeper in the Faroe-Shetland Channel, have allowed comparison of the effects of disturbance on megabenthos across a range of sites. Disturbance to megafaunal assemblages was found to be high within 50 m of the source of drill spoil and in areas where spoil was clearly visible on the seabed, with depressed abundances (Foinaven 1,900 individuals ha−1; Schiehallion 2,178 individuals ha−1) and diversity (H′ = 1.75 Foinaven; 1.12 Schiehallion) as a result of smothering effects. These effects extended to around 100 m from the source of disturbance, although this was variable, particularly with current regime and nature of drilling activity. Further from the source of disturbance, megafaunal assemblages became more typical of the background area with increased diversity (H′ = 2.02 Foinaven; 1.77 Schiehallion) and abundance (Foinaven 16,484 individuals ha−1; Schiehallion 5,477 individuals ha−1). Visible effects on megafaunal assemblages as a result of seabed drilling were limited in extent although assemblage responses were complex, being controlled by differing effects to individual species often based on their motility.