SO-AntEco (South Orkneys - State of the Antarctic Ecosystem)

Start date
20 August, 2015
End date
24 August, 2016

The South Orkney Islands is a small archipelago located in the Southern Ocean, 375 miles north-east of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The seafloor around the South Orkney Islands has been shown to be an area with exceptionally high biodiversity. The marine animals there represent approximately one fifth of all species recorded for the entire Southern Ocean.

benthic header

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) closed all finfish fisheries around the South Orkney Islands in 1989, and in 2009 they established the South Orkney Islands Southern Shelf Marine Protected Area (SOISS MPA), the first MPA located entirely within the High Seas anywhere on the planet.

SO-AntEco was a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) led expedition undertaken in conjunction with an international team of scientists from the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) AntEco research programme. The team included participants from 9 different countries and 16 institutes. It also involved scientists from four UK universities (Bristol, Hull, Liverpool and Oxford) and the Natural History Museum in London. The expedition took place on board the BAS research ship the RRS James Clark Ross in early 2016 and was the sister project of the Krill Hotspots project. This expedition aimed to address aspects of all four of the BAS Grand Challenges for polar science.

Emperor Penguins on the sea ice in front of RRS James Clark Ross. Taken during the JR240 ICEBell Cruise in the Weddell Sea
Emperor Penguins in front of RRS James Clark Ross (JCR)


Recovery of the Agassiz trawl on the aft deck of JCR
SO-AntEco science cruise location map
Location map: SO-AntEco science cruise area.

The SO-AntEco expedition investigated the diversity of life both inside and outside of the SOISS MPA region in order to better understand the distribution and composition of the seafloor communities around islands. We  undertook a research cruise that explored the different seafloor habitats to investigate if different environments support different communities of animals. Understanding where animals that are vulnerable to fishing and other human impacts (such as corals and sponges) live will help us to manage the region’s natural resources in the future.

Animals from the first SoAntEco sampling
Animals from the first SoAntEco sampling March 2016
  • To find and identify seafloor animals from around the South Orkney Islands and to name any species new to science.
  • To detect any significant differences between the types of species and numbers of animals in different habitats.
  • To identify species that are indicative of specific habitat types to help with future habitat mapping.
  • To map all vulnerable species found and to report their presence and distribution to relevant stakeholders such as CCAMLR.


External collaborators

Dr Helena Wiklund – Natural History Museum

Dr Laura Robinson – University of Bristol

Dr Cath Waller – University of Hull

Madeleine Brasier – University of Liverpool/Natural History Museum

Oliver Ashford – University of Oxford

Dr Michelle Taylor – University of Oxford

Prof. Bruno Danis – Université Libre de Bruxelles

Dr Marc Eléaume – Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle

Camille Moreau – Université Libre de Bruxelles

Prof. Angelika Brandt – Universität Hamburg

Rachel Downey – Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt

Dr Louise Allcock – National University of Ireland, Galway

Dr Vassily Spiridonov – P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology

Prof. Estefania Rodriguez – American Museum of Natural History

Melanie Mackenzie – Museum Victoria

Claudio Ghiglione – University of Siena and Italian National Antarctic Museum

Non-participating external collaborators

Dr Anton Van de Putte – University of Leuven

Prof. Philippe Archambault – Université du Québec

SHIP BLOG: Heading for home

31 March, 2016 by Susie Grant

The ship’s science labs have all been packed up and cleaned, kit boxes stowed in the container, cargo paperwork finished and cruise reports written. The SO-AntEco team is ready to …

SHIP BLOG: Rhythm of the night

25 March, 2016 by Hilary Blagbrough

Oh look it’s snowing/raining and getting dark… it must be time for the Night Shift. I’m Hilary, the night shift leader on the SO-AntEco scientific cruise to the South Orkney …

SHIP BLOG: Lost in a Sea of Biology

16 March, 2016 by Laura Robinson

Lost in a Sea of Biology! Dr  Laura Robinson is interested in documenting and understanding the processes that govern climate on time scales ranging from the modern day back through hundreds of …

SHIP BLOG: New Buoy at Sea!

5 March, 2016 by Oliver Ashford

New ‘buoy’ at sea Oliver Ashford – a PhD student from Oxford University – is the youngest member of the SO-AntEco research cruise onboard the RRS James Clark Ross. He’s working with …

PRESS RELEASE: New season – ambitious science

23 November, 2015

New season tackles ambitious science and logistical challenges The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) 2015/16 field season is underway with dozens of scientists and support staff – together with planes and tonnes …