A research expedition in northern Labrador is currently assessing vital yet relatively unexplored marine habitats.

The non-profit group Oceana Canada and representatives from the Nunatsiavut Inuit Government are surveying northern fjords, islands around the village of Nain and archeological sites in Hebron and Okak on the 10-day voyage.

Robert Rangeley, Oceana Canada's science director, says the expedition aims to address scientific gaps in key ecosystems, like charting unknown ocean depths and probing what life forms live on the sea floor.

"As our oceans become used much more heavily everywhere, there's these tremendous science gaps that have to be met in order to effectively manage," Rangeley said in an interview from the Leeway Odyssey research vessel.

Young people from the region, federal fisheries experts and ocean researchers are also on board the ship with a film crew that is documenting the research as it happens.

Underwater cameras around fjords have already yielded stunning images of soft corals and "gorgeous fields" of sea anemones, Rangeley said.

It's too early to give a scientific interpretation of the findings, but Rangeley said such structure-like, sea floor-dwelling animals as coral, sponges and anemones that form habitats for other creatures are signs of a healthy environment.

"It's a real indication of productive areas," he said.

Coastal locations were chosen based on local interest and existing knowledge, with a view to informing future management decisions by all levels of government.

Researchers are posting images from the journey online and are sharing their discoveries with local people, who in turn have contributed their knowledge of the sometimes tricky to navigate waters.

"Everyone we meet is very close to nature," Rangeley said. "Every time we talk to people, we learn more about the region."

He said the images of life captured from the dark, unexplored depths have scientific value in assessing underwater populations, and the close look at thriving sea life can inspire conservation action.

"There's nothing like a picture," Rangeley said. "It's important to understand what you have before you lose it."

Rangeley says filling knowledge gaps is essential in these habitats, which are expected to feel the impact of climate change as temperatures rise, ice melts and development moves further north.

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I wish I didn't have to react to the juxtaposition of research and exploration with the word "management" that in today's dictionaries is probably a synonym for exploitation. Canada, Newdoundland/Labrador would be wise to add these fjords to the marine protected area networks. Their best and highest function would probably be as sanctuaries and nurseries for marine life.