Benthic Research Program

Antarctic Benthic Invertebrate Research Program

Benthic RotatorThe Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division ( AERD) conducts semiannual bottom-trawl research surveys to characterize Antarctic benthic invertebrate communities, in collaboration with the Antarctic Finfish Research Program. This program of research focuses on the detection of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) – including seamounts, hydrothermal vents, cold water corals, sponge fields and other VME indicator taxa. In the Southern Ocean, benthic invertebrate taxa that significantly contribute to the creation of complex three-dimensional structure, cluster in high densities, change the structure of the substratum, and provide substrata for other organisms have been interpreted as consistent with VMEs.

The program began in 2008, after CCAMLR adopted conservation measures aimed at meeting United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Sustainable Fisheries Resolution 61/105, which takes steps to prevent significant adverse impacts to VMEs. The AERD’s Benthic Invertebrate Research Program has directed research efforts toward understanding the taxonomy, composition and distribution of Antarctic epibenthic invertebrate megafauna. The information, collected primarily through trawl and underwater video transects, has been used a basis for the benthic bioregionalization of the Scotia Arc region, as well as the detection of VMEs in the Southern Ocean.


CCAMLR Conservation Measure 22-06.

CCAMLR VME Taxa Classification Guide.

United Nations General Assembly Sustainable Fisheries Resolution 61/05.

Virtual tour of documented VME indicator taxa in the region of South Orkney Islands, the South Shetland Islands, Elephant Island and the Antarctic Peninsula.


Photos and images

Ski Monkey

Station 82-50

Underwater Camera System

Station 63-52

Research activities

Latest news

  • Two VMEs identified by AERD scientists, 6/30/2010
  • Newly discovered sea cucumber species, Psolus lockartae, named after AERD contractor Suzanne Lockart, 6/15/2010
  • AERD hosts Workshop on Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems, 8/17/2009
  • AERD scientists identify 28 VMEs in the Southern Ocean; bottom fishing in these areas closed to protect existing biodiversity, 10/10/2009

Recent publications

  • Lockhart, SJ and CD Jones. 2010. High densities of pterobranchs and sea pens encountered at sites in the South Orkney Islands (Subarea 48.2): two potential VMEs. WG-EMM 10/14.
  • Lockhart, SJ and CD Jones. 2008. On biogeographic patterns of benthic invertebrate mega fauna on shelf areas of the Southern Ocean Atlantic sector. CCAMLR Science 15:167-192.