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Natural History Museum receives huge donation of specimens from the ocean floor

Thousands of ocean animal specimens from the waters around Tristan da Cunha and St Helena, two isolated volcanic islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, have joined the Natural History Museum's collections.

Thousands of ocean animal specimens from the waters around Tristan da Cunha and St Helena, two isolated volcanic islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, have joined the Natural History Museum's collections. 

Collected during a Foreign Office-funded research trip earlier this year, the acquisition includes rare deep-sea anglerfish and 11,000 crustacean specimens, in addition to 81 cephalopods, including a piglet squid, a jewelled squid and a vampire squid. 

The specimens were collected using specialised scientific nets that were fished from the surface to 1,000 m deep. Many of the most interesting specimens came from the deeper nets that sampled below the twilight zone. At those depths, the water gets little daylight and animals are uniquely adapted to the darkness and pressure

James Maclaine, a Senior Curator of Fish at the Museum, says, 'This is a large donation of material which will contain many interesting and possibly new species for our collections.

'The anglerfish are particularly exciting because they are in beautiful condition, and from an area of ocean, the mid-South Atlantic, that we don’t have much material from in the Museum collections.' 

The specimens are also rare due to the locations in which they were collected. Tristan da Cunha is one of world's most remote inhabited islands, half way between Cape Town in South Africa and Buenos Aires in Argentina. 

Curators at the Museum are now examining the new arrivals to see if they could yield new insights into life underwater in this remote part of the Atlantic. Some of the specimens may even be new species that were previously unknown to science. 

The research trip to the Atlantic was part of the government's Blue Belt Programme, which provides long-term protection for four million square kilometres of the rich marine environments around the UK's Overseas Territories. To protect these environments, Blue Belt scientists are partnering with Overseas Territories to better understand their oceans and develop sustainable marine management strategies

Scientists working to support the programme travelled to the islands for a month-long survey aboard the research ship the RRS James Clark Ross. The team spent eight days each in Tristan da Cunha and St Helena, on a mission to understand more about ocean life around the islands and how it can be protected in the future.  

Martin Collins, Blue Belt Programme Principal Scientist, said 

‘The Blue Belt Programme is helping to provide long-term conservation of the marine environment around UK overseas territories including St Helena and Tristan da Cunha.’ 

‘Blue Belt scientists have been working with local partners to understand their unique environment to inform protection and conservation of their rich biodiversity.’ 

The survey was a joint enterprise between Cefas and British Antarctic Survey and also included scientists from the RSPB, Plymouth University, the UK Hydrographic Office, the South Atlantic Research Institute and St Helena Government. 


Notes for editors 

Media contact: Tel: +44 (0) 20 7942 5654/+44 (0) 7799 690151 Email: press@nhm.ac.uk 

The Natural History Museum exists to inspire a love of the natural world and unlock answers to the big issues facing humanity and the planet. It is a world-leading science research centre, and through its unique collection and unrivalled expertise it is tackling issues such as food security, eradicating diseases and managing resource scarcity. The Natural History Museum is the most visited natural history museum in Europe and the top science attraction in the UK; we welcome more than 4.5 million visitors each year and our website receives over 500,000 unique visitors a month. People come from around the world to enjoy our galleries and events and engage both in-person and online with our science and educational activities through innovative programmes and citizen science projects.

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Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) is an executive agency of the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) within the UK government. It provides ministers and government officials in the UK and internationally with impartial expert advice and evidence relating to marine and closely related environments and is a provider of UK statutory monitoring and inspection services, including national emergency response capabilities.

The Blue Belt programme supports delivery of the UK government’s commitment to provide long term protection of over four million square kilometres of marine environment across the UK Overseas Territories.