Advances in ocean biological observations – sustained system for deep-ocean meroplanktonInternal

Activity Overview

Type: Foresight Workshop
Start Date: May 27, 2019
End Date: May 29, 2019
Venue: Aveiro, Portugal
Contact: Marina Cunha
E-mail: marina.cunha [at]
Funding Call: EuroMarine 2018 call for FWS and WG proposals
Total Budget: €22,750
Funds Granted: €7,500

Increasing exploration and exploitation of marine resources, as well as climate change and pollution are affecting ocean’s health. Fundamental knowledge of marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning is therefore vital to understand the magnitude of natural and human-induced impacts in the marine environment. Advances in technology over the past four decades have enabled an unprecedent development of underwater research, extending from near shore to the deepest regions of the globe. However, biological observations in the deep ocean have been limited in space and time, with few exceptions at chemosynthetic habitats, and a relatively small number of timeseries stations reaching abyssal depths.

This workshop aims to review state-of-the-art instrumentation available for plankton observations in shallow and deep waters, and develop a strategy to implement technological innovations for in-situ observations that can be combined with biophysical oceanographic modelling, to provide accurate, reliable and cost-efficient data for deep-sea realms.


Ultimately, the goal for this workshop is to foster the advancement of knowledge on invertebrate larval distributions to improve model predictions of connectivity and resilience of benthic communities to natural and human impacts, that will provide essential data for the development of sound management measures. The workshop will be organized around three major themes:

  1. Knowledge advances in deep-sea larval diversity and distribution: key challenges and priorities
  2. Recent developments in plankton observation technology and approaches (e.g. autonomous systems, image analysis, and -omics)
  3. Data integration and oceanographic modelling


  1. A synthesis paper describing challenges of studying invertebrate larval diversity and distribution and needs for sustained meroplankton observations in the deep ocean
  2. The formation of a working group to work on a proposal for development of new collection systems


This workshop will contribute to the development of deep-ocean Biodiversity and Ecosystem Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs), currently under pilot (zooplanckton biomass and diversity) and emerging (benthic invertebrate abundance and distribution) levels of readiness, as well as under consideration (connectivity of species) for the Deep-Ocean Observing Strategy (DOOS). The knowledge that grows from this workshop will be able to be exported to science, industry and policy.

*The final date for the workshop has not been confirmed. This page will update the date once it has been set.


The EuroMarine-funded foresight workshop (FWS) on Advances in Ocean Biological Observations: a sustained system for deep-ocean meroplankton was convened to to foster advances in the knowledge on deep-ocean invertebrate larval distributions and improve our understanding of fundamental deep-ocean ecological processes such as connectivity and resilience of benthic communities to natural and human-induced disturbance. Specifically, the organisers aimed to review the state-of-the-art instrumentation available for meroplankton observations and develop a strategy to implement technological innovations for in-situ meroplankton observation.

The workshop took place on 27-29 May 2019 at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, however a significant amount of pre-workshop effort took place, stretching back into 2018. Pre-workshop interactions, both among members of the FWS and with external experts, impressed upon the organisers the importance of pursuing synergies with current initiatives and infrastructures involved in ocean observation and how the outputs of deep-ocean meroplankton observation could provide added value to socioeconomic sectors, particularly through marine conservation and management. Through pre-workshop meetings the organisers agreed to frame the workshop around three major themes:

  • Knowledge advances in deep-sea larval diversity and distribution: key challenges and priorities - synthesis of the latest progress on larval ecology studies in deep-ocean habitats and discussion of major challenges and priorities for larval collections in deep waters.
  • Recent developments in plankton observation technology and approaches - inventory of available instrumentation used in plankton research, identification of future technical development, and brainstorming for innovative ideas in the field of in situ observation of deep-ocean larvae.
  • Data integration and oceanographic modelling - discuss the data requirements to improve model predictions and the necessary framework for data management and access to end users, including the science community and other stakeholders (e.g. governmental agencies, environmental managers, policy makers).

In order to most effectively structure the discussion, further information on the topic was collected at the 15th Deep-sea Biology Symposium in Monterey, USA (9-14 September 2018) and subsequently worked into a pre-workshop questionnaire distributed to the registered participants one month ahead of the event. The organisers also participated in the European Ocean Observing Systems (EOOS) conference in Brussels (21-23 November 2018), in order to facilitate thematic convergance with the EEOS agenda.

Fifteen researchers attended the workshop in person, with seven more joined remotely via videoconference. The participants' expertise ranged across a variety of fields including larval biology, benthic ecology, taxonomy, molecular biology, genomics, modelling and engineering (underwater technology development), as well as other disciplines.

Key Outcomes

For three days the participants held lively discussions and collaborative sessions covering the three main themes and identifying challenges to be addressed with future research. The centre of these debates revolved around the steps for developing a sustained observation system for deep-ocean meroplankton. Many outcomes emerged from this very successful meeting, however among the key outcomes were four critical recommendations:

  • Identify priority scientific questions for meroplankton research
  • Communicate the value of meroplankton observations to stakeholders and funding entities
    • In order to communicate the importance of meroplankton studies and engage other sectors of the society, it is crucial to highlight the relevance of meroplankton for maintaining biodiversity, replenishing populations, and ensuring connectivity of the deep ocean and other marine ecosystems, as well as for the recovery of impacted environments (e.g. by resource exploitation). Part and parcel to this is targeting stakeholders who can support sustained, long-term meroplankton observations and studies. Some environmental and regulatory agencies are already mentioning connectivity as a necessary component of ongoing policy and conservation.
  • Design and develop autonomous sampling/observation technologies
    • Autonomous samplers for continuous monitoring, networked robotic systems for adaptive sampling, integrated systems for semi-automated processing and identification of meroplankton samples, as well as supervised machine-learning methodologies for imagery and metagenomics data processing were identified as some of the most relevant technological advances needed to underpin the irreplaceable humanpower in meroplankton research.
  • Establish synergistic collaborations with active ocean observation initiatives and infrastructures
    • The existing in situ components and land-based infrastructures of the Global Ocean Observing System are indispensable for implementing the envisaged global and regional schemes for sustained observing systems, as are many other initiatives for ocean observations at national and international levels. The EMSO-ERIC and the Ocean Networks Canada observatoies were identified as the most approachable consortia for collaborations in the short term.

The full details of the insightful conclusions reached by these researchers can be found in their workshop report (M. Cunha et al., 2020), which has been published open access with the doi: 10.3897/rio.6.e54284.

Next Steps

The workshop participants have begun work on a collaborative manuscript to focus firstly on identifying the priority scientific questions for meroplankton research and describing how technological innovation can assist in building up a sustained deep-ocean meroplankton observation system to gain a better knowledge of fundamental ecological processes such as connectivity and resilience.