DEEPFUN- Biodiversity and functioning of the deep-sea hydrothermal field Menez Gwen- a contribution to management policies deepfun_logo250px.jpg


Hydrothermal vents were discovered thirty years ago, and new discoveries on these systems keep surprising us daily, not only by the discovery of new species and ways of life, but on the way that the organisms and the ecosystem function, and by the value that the knowledge acquired can give to the society and its economy. The vents at the Azores triple junction were discovered in the 90’s, twenty years later than the first vent on the Galapagos Ridge. Their geological processes and its fauna are different from the other vents, and according to some authors (1) they are considered as a biogeographic province of their own. Due to their close proximity to the Azores archipelago and their distinct characteristics, the Azores vents have been the focus of several cruises and studies. Lucky Strike is the most studied vent field, but more recently, Menez Gwen has been the focus of several studies and proposals due to its geographic situation shallower than 1000 meters which allows physiological studies on its fauna without having to simulate the natural pressure conditions.

The level of human intervention and the lack of a profound knowledge of the area have united several scientists and other stakeholders to initiate protection efforts of the Azores vent fields. A precautionary approach (2) was used and scientists started to auto regulate their scientific activities in order to preserve these environments (3).

This project aims to bring new information on the biodiversity and functioning of the Menez Gwen vent field and the peripheral habitats which include coral reefs and gardens. The Menez Gwen area will be surveyed and sampled on the first year, allowing the habitat mapping, the identification of patterns on species and its trophic structure, how it functions and its value.

The project is organised in six tasks that aim at the accomplishment of three main objectives: 1) to describe the Menez Gwen area through habitat mapping and specimen collections 2) to understand the functioning of these ecosystems through the study of their food web, of the relation between the coral habitats and the vent environment and through the understanding how much man has been impacting on this deep-sea environment 3) to evaluate the potential biotechnological value of this environment through the metagenomic analyses of vent sediment samples. This acquired knowledge will help the governance of this area, providing necessary and urgent information for the government to create management plans for the protected areas to be designated. The project also aims to make the new scientific knowledge acquired available to the general public and stakeholders such as NGO’s and policy makers. The project joins three main national research institutions in marine sciences with a strong expertise in the study of deep-sea hydrothermal vents. This collaboration will indubitably enrich the knowledge that we have on these ecosystems and certainly will achieve important results to help the policy makers.


DEEPFUN- Co-financed by the Portuguese Science Foundation -FCT (PTDC/MAR/111749/2009 ) and by the European Regional Development  Fund (ERDF) through COMPETE- Programa Operacional Factores de Competitividade (FCOMP-01-0124-FEDER-015402)

Financed by:


Participant instituitions:




The Project

The Project:

The project will answer three main questions, which are crucial to obtain information for the management plans of this MPA:

What is there?

Menez Gwen has a lower recognised hydrothermal biodiversity at species level, when compared with the other southern ATJ vent fields (9). Nevertheless, this is may be a sampling effect due to the low number of campaigns targeting the area. At the neighbouring areas of vent fields, there are extensive coral reefs (of L. pertusa and/or M. oculata) and coral gardens dominated by gorgonians, which harbour diverse invertebrate assemblages. These assemblages have been observed in previous oceanographic missions, and their exact location is known. An abundant sessile and vagrant meso-bathyal fauna live on the hard rock substrate around the small volcano where the vents are located. We aim to describe the biodiversity (at community, and specific level) of the hydrothermal field, the coral reefs and gardens, including its associated fauna, and from the topographic reliefs inside the boundaries of the Menez Gwen MPA. Although about 15 species of fish have been identified to date as hydrothermal vent endemics, the knowledge on the ichthyofauna of the vent associated environments and their immediate surroundings is far from being satisfactory. In Menez Gwen there are no strictly hydrothermal fish species, while the list of bathyal fishes, from several families, observed regularly inside the active area is significant. A more detailed knowledge of the diversity of these vent environments is crucial to answer some pertinent questions, such as why and how species enter the vent field and how they can vary over time.

How does it work?

Ecosystem functioning
The importance of hydrothermal energy transfer to the biosphere through chemosynthetic production has long been recognized. Initially, this was only considered to occur at discrete, isolated, hydrothermally active hotspots around the global ridge crest and to have minor impact on the global ocean carbon cycles. But recent results suggest that this assumption may not be correct. In addition to the potential importance of chemosynthetic primary production, recent studies have revealed that vent-derived compounds, such as organic iron complexes, could have residence times in the water column that are longer than originally predicted (20; 21). This projects aims to understand the extent of the chemosynthetic and non chemosynthetic related species distribution, their relationships with the environmental and geological conditions and their spatial relationships. This will be very important to track the future evolution of these communities. This aim will be accomplished by studying the distribution of the key species, quantifying their biomass and  understanding the energy fluxes in between them, through food web analyses (stomach contents, stable isotopes and biochemistry studies). Hydrothermal vent fluids influence the physical-chemical conditions of surrounding seawater and will most likely constitute an important controlling factor of the distribution and development of cold-water coral reefs and gardens in adjacent areas(22). Recent oceanographic surveys report large extensions of dead and alive M. oculata and/or L. pertusa reefs in areas around Menez Gwen hydrothermal fields. However, the cause of massive coral mortality is still unknown. This project will investigate the relationship between hydrothermal vent activity and cold-water coral reefs. The studies will focus on the spatial distribution and diversity of cold water coral reefs and gardens and on the potential influence of hydrothermal fluids on the coral survival and growth. Reef growth results from a dynamic relationship between calcium carbonate production (accretion), mainly due to calcification of corals, and destruction, mainly due to their biological erosion (bioerosion). The capacity for the reef to maintain a positive balance between bioerosion and accretion determines the structural integrity of the ecosystem and is therefore an important indicator of coral reef “health” (23; 24). The health status of coral reefs can be used by managers and policy makers to determine the conservation potential of these areas. For example it can identify geographic areas that because of low bioerosion and high calcification rates will be able to maintain a positive carbonate budget and high structural complexity in the future. These areas will be of higher value for conservation.  

Man-made contaminants in hydrothermal vents

The presence of toxic contaminants in most aquatic environments is almost exclusively due to anthropogenic activities and high concentrations of organic and metal compounds are typically indicative of pollution. However, in hydrothermal vent systems some of these toxic elements can be present at high concentrations due to natural processes involving the emission of metal enriched hydrothermal fluids from the ocean crust (25; 16; 26,). More spectacular is the apparent lack of harmful effects of this metal rich environment to the hydrothermal faunal communities that can survive and prosper in natural extreme conditions. In order to better understand the extent of anthropogenic fingerprints in the Menez Gwen MPA, this task will target the identification of man-made contamination (namely, residues of TBT, DDT, PCBs and active pharmaceutical ingredients - APIs) in deep-sea organisms. Biomarkers of organic pollutants, namely antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidases), EROD system and lipid peroxidation will also be determined in the organisms in order to assess the impact of these contaminant in the hydrothermal population. Additionally, a proteomic study will be conducted in selected key species from Menez-Gwen MPA. Unlike the study of single biomarker responses, proteomics examines how multiple expression changes are associated with a contamination or a harmful environment. Consequently, proteins involved in toxicological responses that have not been described previously may be revealed. Thus, proteomics-based approaches represent an effective method to identify qualitative and quantitative differences between complex protein samples. This proteomic study will provide a background proteome and protein expression signatures for the most representative hydrothermal species in Menez-Gwen. The proteomic study will involve the separation of proteins from selected animals by 2D-electrophoresis in SDS polyacrylamide gels stained with silver. Relevant proteins may be identified afterwards by mass spectrometry.

What is its value?

Contribution to the basic knowledge of deep sea genetic resources and biotechnological value of the ecosystem inside the Menez Gwen MPA.
All deep sea ecosystems host species and communities that host genetic information potentially useful from the standpoint of how they are defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity. These genetic resources have already proven to be of great potential and also actual value for developing applications of interest to health and industry (Salvatore Arico, Unesco, Paris and UNU-IAS Yokohama in Norway/UN Conference on Ecosystems and People-Biodiversity for development-The road to 2010 and beyond). It is important to continue to build the knowledge basis on deep sea genetic resources and to develop marine scientific research aimed at a better assessment of genetic functional units (genes or functional heredity units) contained in deep sea marine animals and microbes. Following the example of other countries investigating deep sea environments including hydrothermal vents, we propose to initiate a program of genome analyses of microbial communities, also known as “metagenomics” or direct cloning and expression of multigenomic DNA extracts. The application of metagenomics to unculturable species in any extreme environment will allow us to discover new genes with a potential application in health and industry as well as in environmental monitoring and bioremediation. The knowledge we will acquire on the Azorean MPA will benefit our scientific and technical abilities to evaluate the potential biotechnological value of the hydrothermal vents fields associated to the MPAs described above.


With the information essential for a good management plan (species identification and calculations made of the percentage cover by the dominant species, with the habitat mapping of the area), it is aimed to elaborate a document with all the partners and a policy panel with guidelines for management of this deep-sea MPA’s.


This task aims to:

  • create and maintain a webpage with science and dedicated pages to large public audiences.
  • to organize a public conference, in order to make public awareness about the deep-sea ecosystem values and the advantages to protect them.
  • to create a documentary for television made.

The Team

The Team

Maria Ana Almeida Colaço PI


Ana Colaço is the PI of the project. Sheholds a PhD in Ecology and Biosystematics, by the Faculty of Science, University of Lisbon. She is a research fellow at the UAç/DOP- Centro da Universidade dos Açores and involved in several R & D projects related to the deep-sea environment. She specializes on hydrothermal vent ecosystems, the trophic ecology of deep-sea systems, benthic ecology, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. She is on the ESONET Scientific Council and is part of the MoMAR steering committee and the Biology Group of Interridge. She has long experience in international cooperation both at the European level (MAST III, FP5; FP6, FP7) and bilateral cooperation.

She will coordinated the project, cooperate with most of the workpackages. Her science will be dedicated to the functioning of the ecosystem studying the trophic relationships between the macro and megafauna present in the study area.

Fernando Nuno Costa Tempera
Filipe Jorge Monteiro de Mora Porteiro
Humberto Manuel Dias Lopes
Manuel José da Conceição Biscoito
Marina Parra Carreiro e Silva

marinaMarina Carreiro Silva is a Post-Doctoral Fellow working on the biology and ecology of cold-water corals, particularly the reef framework-forming species that construct reefs. Within the DEEPFUN project, Marina will investigate the potential role of hydrothermal vent fluids as a cause of death of large extensions of Madrepora oculata and Lophelia pertusa in the vicinity of the vent field, through measurements of trace-elements (Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, Pb, Ni, and Zn) and stable-isotope (18O,13C, 15N and 34S) concentrations on living and dead coral at various distances from active venting sites. She will also study the influence of hydrothermal vent fluids on the patterns of carbonate production (calcification) and destruction (bioerosion) of cold-water corals (mainly Lophelia pertusa and Madrepora oculata).



Raul Bettencourt
Ricardo Piedade Abreu Serrão Santos

Maria Ana Figueira Martins
Estibaliz Berecibar
Frederico Augusto da Silva Carvalho
Inês Cerqueira Afonso Tojeira
Monica Santos Albuquerque Correia

malbuq1M@rBis Biodiversity Advisor (Marine Biodiversity Information System) since 2009 in the Task Group for the Extension of the Continental Shelf. Attending Master Thesis classes in Marine Ecology. Areas of research include Taxonomy and Systematics of Marine Invertebrates and Seamounts Ecology. Organization Committee and participation of LusoExpedição 2006, 2007 and 2008, 2009 and Luso EMEPC EMEPC M@RBIs in 2010 and 2011 Campaigns. Board member of the Portuguese Institute of Malacology since 2007. Author of the book "Moluscos Marinhos – Atlas das Ilhas Selvagens." Owner of Synthesys and CenSeam Scholarship in 2005 and 2007.

Mónica Albuquerque will be involved on the WP2 (Biodiversity study and habitat) to integrate the biodiversity data on the M@rbis Information System and in and WP6 (Outreach) to select videos of Menez Gwen collected by EMEPC with the ROV Luso


Frederico Abecasis David Cardigos

cardigosFrederico Abecasis David Cardigos, Portuguese, born in 1970, is the Regional Director for the Maritime Affairs of the Azores (since 2010) and Director of the Marine Park of the Azores (2011). Was Regional Director for the Environment (2006-2010). He has a first degree in Marine Biology and Fisheries (U. Algarve) and a master in Management and Nature Conservation (U. Azores) and was research assistant at the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries (U. Azores) (1994-2006). Published articles, technical reports, scientific posters and has done several communication in congresses. Cooperated in initiatives for pedagogic education. Developed an intense activity for scientific dissemination and marine environmental education. Detailed version:



Sara Vanessa Freitas da Silva Santos

Sara Vanessa Santos, marine biologist with a masters degree in Marine and Coastal Studies (University of the Algarve), initiated her professional career as a researcher in marine ecology, in the Algarve (through Project Seahorse, at that time of McGill University, Canada) and in the Azores (Department of Oceanography and Fisheries, University of the Azores). After a 20-month period in a professional volunteer placement in the Philippines as a natural resource management advisor (Voluntary Service Overseas), in 2007 she returned to the Azores, as a technician in the Regional Secretariat for the Environment and Sea, where presently she coordinates the team responsible for the maritime spatial plan of the Azores.    

Biologist from the Azorean Secretariat for the Environment and Sea, participating in the project namely within the tasks dedicated to outreach and towards the recommendations of management measures for the MPA.

Maria João Anunciação Franco Bebianno
Maria Margarida Ramos Gonzalez Rey
Rui Miguel Saraiva Company

Dr. Rui Company completed his PhD in 2005 on the antioxidant defence system and metal resistance strategies in the hydrothermal vent mussel Bathymodiolus azoricus at the University of Algarve. Currently he is a post-doc investigator between the University of the Basque Country, University of Valencia (Spain) and University of Algarve (Portugal) and his work focuses on the adaptation mechanisms of organisms to deep-sea extreme marine environments using genomic and proteomic approaches, biochemistry and molecular biology. He is also interested in the responses of marine organisms to anthropogenic pollutants, emerging contaminants, and the development of new biomarkers.

During the DEEPFUN Project R. Company will be involved in the preparation of the oceanographic cruise and collection of hydrothermal vent fauna (Task 1), and especially implicated in the determination of metallic and organic contaminants present in Menez Gwen organisms and the assessment of biomarker responses using biochemical and proteomic approaches (Task 3). He will also be involved in the outreaching activities of DEEPFUN project (Task 6).












InterRidge/ISA Fellowship


Sanitha Sivadas, from National Institute of Oceanography- Dona Paula, Goa, India, visited us under the framework of a Interridge ISA fellowship. She worked on the benthic fauna associated with different megafaunal assemblages (Coral garden, mussel bed and shrimp) from the Menez Gwen collected during the July 2012 cruise.

She will be working  at the Center ofIMAR from the University of Azores from from 1st September to 30th November 2012.



Cruise to the Menez Gwen hydrothermal vent field - July 2012

The DEEPFUN cruise took place in July 2012. The RV Arquipélago took the team to the R/V Thalassa, were six scientists Portuguese team get on board. The Portuguese team was composed by :

Ana Colaço- PI

Fernando Tempera- Habitat mapping responsable

Filipe Porteiro- Biodiversity responsible

Marina Carreiro e Silva – corals and bioerosion

Rui Company- Proetomics and contaminsnts

Raul Bettencourt- Biotechnology value of sediments and proteomics

Two dives were performed. A dive focused on the hydrothermal vent field and coral reefs at the vent field vicinity, and a long second dive on the western flank of the Menez Gwen volcano.

Deep-sea assemblage dominated by the hydrocoral Crypthelia sp. colonizing rock at depths between 830 and 844m

Dense colonies of Madrepora oculata and Lophelia pertusa colonizing hard rock substrate at depths ranging from 790 to 800m

Dense colonies of Madrepora oculata and Lophelia pertusa colonizing hard rock substrate at depths ranging from 790 to 800m

Sampling a musel bed at the Menez Gwen hydrothermal vent field

Sampling a musel bed at the Menez Gwen hydrothermal vent field

Dr Ana Colaço and Dr Fernando Tempera the Victor 6000 pilot ROV during the Menez Gwen hydrotehrmal vent field dive

Dr Ana Colaço and Dr Fernando Tempera the Victor 6000 pilot ROV during the Menez Gwen hydrotehrmal vent field dive

Dr Marina Carreiro e Silva and Dr Ana Colaço retrieving the samples after the Victor 6000 dive at the Menez Gwen Marine Protected Area

Dr Marina Carreiro e Silva and Dr Ana Colaço retrieving the samples after the Victor 6000 dive at the Menez Gwen Marine Protected Area

Transects performed during the two ROV dives at the Deepfun mission

Transects performed during the two ROV dives at the Deepfun mission