Seamounts are large underwater mountains, generally of volcanic origin, that rise from the ocean floor. They can arise along mid-ocean ridges, as isolated landmarks or as volcanoes in chains and clusters. Seamounts constitute hotspots of marine biodiversity, as they provide hard foundations for deep-sea life to settle on and grow. In addition, seamounts rising into the ocean create obstacles that shape ocean currents and direct deep, nutrient-rich waters up the sloping sides of seamounts to the surface. These factors combine to make seamounts fertile habitats for diverse communities of marine life, including sponges, crabs, sea anemones, commercially important fish, and deep-sea corals. Such hotspots serve as spawning sites for many species and marine mammals such as whales and dolphins. Moreover, large predators such as sharks rely on them to feed and rest during migrations.
Seamounts can be found throughout the world's oceans. Estimation of their number varies from tenths of thousands to a million of such geological formations, depending on the exact definition that is adopted. However, of all Earth's seamounts, only a few hundred have been studied. As often stated by oceanographers, humans know more about the topography of Mars and the Moon than we do about the ocean floor.
Today seamount biodiversity and ecosystems face an increasing number of threats, including deep sea bottom fishing and deep sea mining. In this context Blancpain together with Laurent Ballesta and his Gombessa team are working on an exploration program to raise the public's awareness of these crucial hotspots for ocean health, food security, medicine and other benefits that oceans provide to humans.