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Dr. Malcolm Clark

A Conversation with Malcolm Clark, Principal Investigator for Census of Marine Life on Seamounts.

Where were you educated?
I studied at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, where I received a PhD in Marine Biology in 1982, then did postgraduate work in fisheries ecology and stock assessment.

How did you become interested in the ocean?
My family, for generations, has been involved in the sea, either as ship officers, fishermen, or keen sailors and yachties. I also started sailing as a young kid, which is common in New Zealand where one is never far from the coast, and so the progression into marine biology was probably natural.

What do you study and why is it important?
I study seamount biodiversity, deepwater fisheries, and the effects of trawling. These three are related, and are a focus of CenSeam, which stands for the Census of Marine Life on Seamounts. Seamounts can be productive habitats and benthic fauna and fish species can be abundant in these areas. Deepwater fisheries for species like alfonsino, boarfish, cardinalfish and orange roughy, for example, often take place on and near seamounts, and as a result, the localized impact of trawling can be substantial. Very little is known of what actually lives on seamounts - only 300-400 have been sampled out of a possible global total close to 100,000. We need to learn more about the animals found on seamounts, how the communities are structured, how they function, and how fisheries can affect them-so that seamount resources can be managed in a sustainable way and biodiversity is maintained.

What do you enjoy about your work?
It is always challenging, often exciting, and never the same from day to day. My work has taken me from the North Sea to the Antarctic, from the surface to over a kilometer deep in a submersible. It is a fascinating world in the oceans, and there is so much we have yet to learn.

What are some of the challenges you face?
There is so much to do, given a large number of seamounts spread throughout the world's oceans. Research offshore is expensive. It is hard to get enough funding together to carry out detailed research. There is always a trade-off between examining one area in detail, and many more on a broader scale. The world of seamount biodiversity is very complex, and it is hard to sample the deep and capture the full range of biodiversity - animals are very good at not being caught!

What have you learned and what do you hope to learn?
The CenSeam programme is just beginning, but we hope to compile a lot of existing information. We also intend to foster new expeditions to gain a much better understanding of the structure of seamounts and how their ecosystems function. We can use this knowledge to try and advise how human activities can be managed to ensure conservation of seamount biodiversity.

How do you spend your spare time when not studying the ocean?
When not studying the ocean, I tend to play in or on it. I enjoy the water sports of sailing, diving, and white-water kayaking. And, of course, there is always old house maintenance, and normal family events. Following our three children's activities just about fills the day, every day.


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