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Named after the long-lived Welwitschia mirabilis plant of western Africa, the iMirabilis expedition is one of the flagship “Demonstrator Capacity Building cruises” of the iAtlantic project. The cruise will take place on the Spanish Research Vessel Sarmiento de Gamboa (SdG) from July to August 2021. The expedition was postponed from 2020 due to the Covid-19 situation, hence we re-named the new expedition as iMirabilis_2

The ship will travel from Vigo (Spain) to Last Palmas (Canaries, Spain), and from there will move to Cabo Verde waters to carry out the main research work. The transit between Vigo and Las Palmas will also be used for different training and capacity building activities. The expedition will finish in Las Palmas (Canaries, Spain).

iMirabilis_2 is an international multidisciplinary expedition with activities contributing to many tasks across iAtlantic’s work packages. At-sea activities will study both the water column (e.g. measuring oceanographic parameters, water and plankton sampling) and the seafloor. iMirabilis_2 mobilises state-of-the-art seabed survey equipment including the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Autosub6000 (from NOC) and the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Luso (from EMEPC). This advanced technology allows iAtlantic to explore benthic ecosystems in great detail producing large high-resolution photographic results that will be processed automatically using new machine learning approaches.

The results of these surveys will be used to produce high resolution habitat maps in Cabo Verde. Moreover, the ROV Luso will allow collection of selected specimens for taxonomic purposes and for dating. Furthermore, new technologies will be tested during iMirabilis_2 including the eDNA ‘RoCSI’ sampler recently developed by researchers from National Oceanography Centre (NOC). Seabed lander equipment will also be deployed during iMirabilis_2 to obtain in situ information on environmental parameters and demersal deep-sea fish fauna. Ex situ experimental work will also take place on the ship, including short-term aquaria experiments with specimens collected with the ROV and incubations of sediment cores, collected by multicore.

Beyond the pure research activities, iMirabilis_2 includes detailed training and capacity building components, for instance, young researchers from South Africa and Cabo Verde will join the transit from Vigo to Las Palmas to be trained in the use of the ROV and in seabird identification and seabird census techniques. Furthermore, during the expedition, students from South Africa Brazil and Portugal will be on board to be trained in the use of the different gears as well as to learn how a research expedition is organized and led at sea. Besides this, outreach activities are planned during harbor visits at the beginning and end of the expedition as well as on board during the cruise.