The Belgica 121 expedition to the Western Antarctic Peninsula: a high resolution biodiversity census

Sampling event
Latest version published by SCAR - AntOBIS on Jul 27, 2022 SCAR - AntOBIS
Publication date:
27 July 2022
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This dataset pertains to the outputs of the Belgica 121 (B121) expedition, which aim was to explore the surroundings of the Gerlache Strait (Western Antarctic Peninsula) and to carry out a detailed biodiversity census focusing on intertidal and shallow areas using both classic descriptive marine ecology methods as well as state-of- the art techniques (habitat mapping, genetics, trophic ecology). This dataset will offer access to the raw data on biodiversity occurrences, obtained using a range of methods.

Data Records

The data in this sampling event resource has been published as a Darwin Core Archive (DwC-A), which is a standardized format for sharing biodiversity data as a set of one or more data tables. The core data table contains 404 records.

1 extension data tables also exist. An extension record supplies extra information about a core record. The number of records in each extension data table is illustrated below.

Event (core)

This IPT archives the data and thus serves as the data repository. The data and resource metadata are available for download in the downloads section. The versions table lists other versions of the resource that have been made publicly available and allows tracking changes made to the resource over time.


The table below shows only published versions of the resource that are publicly accessible.

How to cite

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

Danis, B., Christiansen, H., Guillaumot, C., Heindler, F., Houston, R., Jossart, Q., Lucas, K., Moreau, C., Pasotti, F., Robert. H., Wallis, B., Saucède, T., [year accessed]. The Belgica 121 expedition to the Western Antarctic Peninsula: a high resolution biodiversity census.


Researchers should respect the following rights statement:

The publisher and rights holder of this work is SCAR - AntOBIS. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY 4.0) License.

GBIF Registration

This resource has been registered with GBIF, and assigned the following GBIF UUID: b635be2e-76ea-4600-8f83-549601653c0a.  SCAR - AntOBIS publishes this resource, and is itself registered in GBIF as a data publisher endorsed by Ocean Biodiversity Information System.


Samplingevent; benthos; intertidal; shallow; marine biodiversity; Antarctic Peninsula; Southern Ocean; low-environmental impact; meiobenthos; Samplingevent


Bruno Danis
  • Metadata Provider
Associate Professor
Université Libre De Bruxelles
50, avenue FD Roosvelt
1050 Brussels
Bruno Danis
  • Metadata Provider
Associate Professor
Université Libre De Bruxelles
50, avenue FD Roosevelt
1050 Brussels
Camille Moreau
  • Originator
Université Libre De Bruxelles
Charlène Guillaumot
  • Originator
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Francesca Pasotti
  • Originator
Universiteit Gent
Franz Heindler
  • Originator
Henri Robert
  • Originator
Henrik Christiansen
  • Originator
Quentin Jossart
  • Point Of Contact
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Thomas Saucède
  • Originator
Université de Bourgogne Franche Comté
Ben Wallis
  • Originator
Ocean Expeditions

Geographic Coverage

The sampling area focused on the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) and extended from the Berthelot Islands to the SW to Enterprise Islands to the NE and included a total of 15 stations. Certain stations were exhaustively sampled while others were partially worked out as timing, priorities, anchoring and weather allowed. Metchnikoff Point (MP) was visited in order to check the status of historic monument #45. The birds and marine mammals survey was carried out all along the expedition and includes the whole expedition track, from Ushuaia (AR) to the WAP.

Bounding Coordinates South West [-66, -68], North East [-54, -62]

Taxonomic Coverage

Specimens were collected in the intertidal zone and the subtidal zone (max depth: 20m). Meiobenthos and megabenthos classes were analysed in particular. Identification of specimens is still ongoing, combining morphological analyses by expert taxonomists and a genetic approach where possible.

Temporal Coverage

Start Date / End Date 2019-02-23 / 2019-03-24

Project Data

The Belgica121 expedition (B121) ventured to explore the marine biodiversity of the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) to test the concept of using a nimble sampling platform, the R/V Australis, a steel hulled, fully rigged motor sailor. Named as a tribute to the first international scientific expedition in Antarctica lead by Adrien de Gerlache in 1897-99 (onboard the Belgica). Deploying 20 different types of gear (both traditional and modern), the B121 team gathered over 1700 samples that will be brought back to Belgium for further identification (by taxonomic experts) and analyses (isotopes, population genetics or genomics...). The team focused on biodiversity assessments, from the intertidal to subtidal zone (20 m) in coastal areas with contrasting characteristics regarding their exposure to glaciers, oceanographic characteristics and intensity of touristic activities. Other projects included population genetics studies, trophic ecology, environmental DNA, microplastics surveys and more (see full report below for details).

Title Belgica 121 (B121) expedition
Identifier B121
Funding The Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO): the bulk of the funding of the expedition was channeled through 2 research projects funded by BELSPO, RECTO (promoter: Isa Schön, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences) and vERSO (promoter: Bruno Danis, Université Libre de Bruxelles). The Cabinet Marcourt (Federation Wallonia-Brussels - Research, Education) supported the expedition for functioning and various equipment. The Belgian Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment funded the ship time necessary to the visit of historic monument N°45 dedicated to the Belgica expedition lead by Adrien de Gerlache. The Fund for Scientific Research – FNRS, and the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO) have funded travel expenses. The B121 team also acknowledge financial support from the Fonds Léopold III and the Royal Belgian Zoological Society.
Study Area Description The study area was primarily the Western Antarctic Peninsula in the Southern Ocean. B121 took place between February and March 2019, sampling 15 stations in 22 working days in an area extending from the Berthelot (65°19.751 S, 64°08.263 W) to the Melchior Islands (64°19.246 S, 62°55.375W).
Design Description The overarching objective of the expedition was to gather samples and data to help building a benchmark to better understand the response of shallow benthic communities to contrasting glacial regimes in a fast-warming region of the Southern Ocean, the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). It is hoped that the collected samples will refine insights gained in the plasticity/resilience of these communities in the framework of the RECTO/vERSO projects. The objective was tackled by using a multi-faceted approach matched by the complementary competences of the scientific crew and the sampling gear. The expedition was a unique opportunity to address a series of underlying scientific/logistic questions including: 1. to test the concept of using a nimble platform for Antarctic marine biology field work and its potential to fill knowledge gaps with a limited environmental impact 2. to map the marine habitats in selected locations of the Gerlache Strait 3. to assess the levels of biodiversity in various locations in the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP), from the supratidal to 20 m depth 4. to model trophic networks in fast-changing environmental conditions 5. to run a survey of plastic contamination, including adsorbed pollutants (organic and inorganic)

The personnel involved in the project:

Sampling Methods

By design, the expedition was aimed to focus on carrying out a detailed biodiversity census, from the intertidal to the subtidal zones (up to 20m) in stations along the Gerlache Strait. The stations were chosen for their contrasting conditions in terms of exposure to glaciers influence, to different water masses (Drake, Gerlache Strait, etc...), and geomorphology. Multiple gears were deployed (see Table 3), combining traditional instruments and modern techniques, and the team mostly included young scientists who were acquainted to using several techniques. Each team had a specific project (see specific section, “Work at sea and preliminary results”) and was able to help others during sample processing stages. The initial stages of the expedition were exploratory (one full station would need up to 4 days to be completed) and were followed with more efficient sampling (1.5 – 2 days per station). Opportunistically, certain stations were partially sampled in function of the priorities and weather/anchoring conditions.

Study Extent The expedition took place between Feb 23 and March 24 , 2019. The Australis departed from Ushuaia (Argentina) on Feb 23rd and arrived at the first sampling station (Melchior Islands) on Feb 27th after crossing the Drake passage in strong headwinds. The last station was completed on March 20 and the expedition returned to Ushuaia on March 24 , a total of 22 days was devoted to the sampling effort, including birds and marine mammals observations. The sampling area focused on the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) and extended from the Berthelot Islands to the SW to Enterprise Islands to the NE and included a total of 15 stations. Certain stations were exhaustively sampled (see Table 1, in bold) while others were partially worked out as timing, priorities, anchoring and weather allowed. Metchnikoff Point (MP) was visited in order to check the status of historic monument #45.
Quality Control In the framework of the B121 expedition, data was aggregated and organized to ensure optimal use in the future for data publication in authoritative repositories and sample management. A series of data types were collected pertaining to navigation, weather conditions and sampling efforts (both biological and oceanographic). General procedures: • Logbooks: hard copies of logbooks were completed on a daily basis by the B121 team. Data was organized in 4 different logbooks: sample, events, photo, diving. Logbooks were digitized and backed up on a daily basis. • Spreadsheets: data from the logbooks was entered in dedicated spreadsheet on a daily basis by two members of the B121 team: Charlène Guillaumot and Bruno Danis. A quality control (QC) was performed on the fly and feedback was given to the researchers on an adhoc basis. • Backup procedures: digital data and samples were backed up on a daily basis on 2 computers and 2 external hard drives. Sample (biodiversity) data: Sample data was gathered in MS Excel spreadsheets, specially prepared for the expedition. The structure of the spreadsheet is based upon the Darwin Core (DwC) standard, expanded for specific data and sample management needs. A template of the spreadsheet is provided in annex for future use by other users. Media data: Large amounts of video data were gathered in the framework of the expedition, both for outreach and research purposes. Underwater footage was taken by Bruno Danis and Henri Robert using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV: OpenROV Trident). The footage was used essentially for exploration and dive site confirmation purposes. Aerial footage was shot by Franz Heindler, Camille Moreau and Bruno Danis using two DJI Mavic Pro drones, for documentation purposes. Documentary footage was mostly shot by Franz Heindler and other members of the team. For more details, see the dedicated section below. Data publication: In the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty, Art. 3.1.c, the data emerging from the Belgica 121 sampling efforts will be made openly and freely available, in the best possible time limits and will follow the standards, policies and norms of behavior as established by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). In particular, raw biodiversity data will be shared using dedicated, community-driven platforms such as the initiative. Processed data will be made available through scientific publications and through the Belgica 121 website (

Method step description:

  1. Full description of the methodologies is available from the B121 expedition report: Briefly, for the macro and mega benthos survey, the diversity analysis was conducted using various sampling gears and investigation means as a necessary preliminary step to further ecological analyses, from individual species systematics to trophic and community analyses. Most common and key species (engineers or top predators) of the surveyed shallow water habitats (between 5 and 20 m depth) could be observed and identified during the dives, some of them sampled by hand picking, or identified on video transects. This first inventory was widely complemented by samples collected with a Rauschert dredge, Van Veen grab and amphipod trap. For the soft sediments biodiversity, samples for meiofauna assemblage structure (taxa diversity, nematodes diversity, biomass), were collected at each location by divers either by means of perspex push cores (3.6 cm diameter, quantitative) or by surface sediment scooping (qualitative).Where the sediment characteristics allowed core sampling, the sediment was sliced in different layers profiles (0-1 cm, 1-2 cm, 2-5 cm 5-10 cm) for the whole core depth. At least three replicates were taken for the meiofauna characterisation at each location dive event. For the intertidal works, two sampling procedures were used to characterise the biodiversity and abundance on each site: (1) 10 quadrats (25cm X 25cm) were randomly disposed at the low tide level (Figure 28). Presence and abundance of each species (morphotypes) were recorded within each quadrat and specimens were preserved in 96% ethanol for further identification and analyses; (2) to obtain a better overview of the total biodiversity, an exploration (1 hour) in the vicinity of quadrats was also done to look for any species not found inside the quadrats. Fish biodiversity was addressed using three methods: (1) angling with hooks, line and sinker, (2) gill nets, and (3) a cylindrical fish trap or fyke. Angling took place with standard commercial fishing rods, braided fishing line, and rigs (Sabikis) equipped with multiple hooks of varying sizes, and small, colorful lures, luminescent plastic beads, and weights at the end in depth of 5 – 50 m. Hooks were sometimes baited with fish, mollusk or shrimp and used actively (jigging during daytime from the ship or zodiacs) or passively (fixed to the ship overnight). Two types of gill nets were used, measuring approximately 18 m in width and 1.5 m in height and with 4 cm and 8 cm mesh size (stretched), respectively. Nets were set in depths of 10 – 30 m and usually perpendicular to observed currents. The fish trap was deployed for at least 8 h in depths of 10 – 30 m, baited with fish, mollusks, or shrimp. Finally, continuous monitoring of birds and marine mammals (species identification and headcount) was performed from the bridge or a spot offering the best visibility on deck. Bird/mammal standard counts are 30 min non-stop observation with binoculars for identification (if required) and age/sex determination when possible. A 300 mm tele objective camera is used for documentation and identification of species that pose identification issues in the field (e.g. Catharacta spp., Pachyptila spp.). GPS ship position and climatic conditions are recorded at each start and end position of counts. Counts are performed during daylight (from dawn to dusk), while visibility permitting (counts must be stopped when visibility is poor due to heavy fog or precipitation) to avoid bias in animal detection and subsequent false population estimates.

Collection Data

Collection Name B121 expedition collection
Specimen preservation methods Alcohol,  Deep frozen,  Other

Bibliographic Citations

  1. Danis, B., Christiansen, H., Guillaumot, C., Heindler, F., Houston, R., Jossart, Q., Lucas, K., Moreau, C., Pasotti, F., Robert. H., Wallis, B., Saucède, T., 2019. Report of the Belgica 121 expedition to the West Antarctic Peninsula. 96 pp.

Additional Metadata

Alternative Identifiers 10.48361/kawuhz