Continental Margins

An integrated effort to document and explain biodiversity patterns on gradient-dominated continental margins, including the potential interactions among their variety of habitats and ecosystems.

Project Leaders:


Professor Myriam Sibuet, Institut Oceanographique, Paris, France

Professor R Carney, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA



The continental margine are the ribbons of seafloor beginning at the edge of the continental slope and extending rapidly to abyssal plan depths. During the past few decades, our understanding of deep continental margin habitats has changed more than for any other large area of Earth. While it has been known for a long time what the ocean margins are a mixture of rugged moutainous scenery and sediment-covered slopes, it is only in recent times, with higher-resolution bathymetry and increased bottom sampling, that areas once envisioned as monotonous landscapes are now acknowledged to have a high degree of complexity and diversity. Continental margins furthermore support some of the ocean's strongest gradients (e.g. depth, pressure, organic matter flux, oxygen). Collectively, these processes create unique ecosystems, which some are only now being discovered and which we are just beginning to understand. As exploitation of living and mineral resources is advancing faster than ecological knowledge on continental slopes, a comprehensive analysis of species distribution, biodiversity patterns and processes on continental margins is needed.


To achieve its goals, COMARGE intends to create a network of researchers to facilitate coordination among projects and cruises, to foster data sharing, to support data archiving through its database and finally to assure the maximum synergistic value for continental margin studies.


An objective of COMARGE is to turn basic advances into sound environmental advice. Fundamental patterns of species distribution first observed and explained in the context of monotonous slopes will be re-evaluated in light of the newly recognised heterogeneity of continental margins. Multi-scale habitat definition and mapping will provide basic geo-referenced information to develop environmental sensitivity maps. Comprehensive cross-margin syntheses at the sepcies level will enlighten benthic species distributions in the deep-sea realm and refine estimates of how many species co-exist on continental margins. The scale of species distribution is a matter of debate among deep-sea ecologists and a basic requirement in conservation policies. Comprehensive cross-margin syntheses at the community level will allow local to global testing of controls on species diversity, will generate data inputs for food web models and will provide insights in theoretical ecology. A better understanding of biodiversity patterns and processes, ecosystem functioning and their inter-relationships is acutely needed in order to forecsat environmental risks on continental margins.


Fascination with the unknown, and thus with the deep sea is high. The deep sea is the largest ecosystem on Earth, but is one of the least undestood environments. Its remoteness and difficulties encountered in its exploration excite human imagination. The deep sea is shrouded in a mystery that stimulates himan desire for knowledge and invites us to conquer the last remaining frontier on Earth. Fortunately, submersibles and ROVs are now offering access to hotspots on continental margins. These represent some some of the best underwater mountain scenery on Earth. Stunning photographs and video produced by COMARGE partners offer a tremendous potential to enhance awareness of continental margins among the general public.


By 2010, COMARGE will have built a network of excellence, which will foster the emergence and dissemination of new ideas, generate an international research agenda desinged to test the hypotheses that emerge from the COMARGE synthesis and thus guide ecological researchers on continental margins for the next decade. We expect the COMARGE network will be a key partner:

  • For the offshore oil and gas and fishing industriees, where scientific expertise is needed to advise on environmental survey protocols, to provide a taxonomic clearing house and to forecast environmental risk.
  • For the conservation stakeholders, enabling them to address conservation issues in the deep sea on a sound scientific basis.
  • For national interests (governments) that wish to protect the biodiversity and natural resources within their EEZ.


Visit the COMARGE website
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