“If you don’t know what’s going on, it’s hard to protect.”
It is an area of great interest that mining companies are eager to exploit. Deep at sea level are nodules containing rare metals, such as cobalt and nickel. There is a great need for this now that oil and gas have been abandoned and these types of raw materials are essential for solar panels and batteries.
Precisely in the coming weeks, the International Seabed Authority, which has control, will have to decide whether the extraction of raw materials can begin here.
For scientists, the potential exploitation is an added incentive to see what forms of life can be found in the ocean depths. After all, this is the only way to measure the impact of human activities in the future. The most recent inventory of the multicellular animals was published in the trade journal on Thursday Current Biologyand was led by biologists from the Natural History Museum in London.
Get out from the bottom
How do you view animals in the unfathomable depths of the ocean? The simplest method is to lower some kind of box, take a square “bite” from the bottom of the ocean, and then raise it up again. Another method is to have robot trucks roam the sea floor and ask them to take samples or photograph them. You can then describe the appearance of the animal species present or map the genetic material.
For their new publication, the biologists combined all known datasets, omitting duplicates as much as they could, and came up with a count: 5,580 animal species have been found in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. Of these, 5,142 have yet to be scientifically named. Of the 438 species known to scientists, 179 are not known anywhere else in the deep sea.
Arthropods in particular appeared to be abundantly represented, followed by annelids, roundworms, echinoderms (such as sea urchins) and sponges. Muriel Rabone, a deep-sea ecologist at the Natural History Museum, called some of those species “very curious” in a press release. Some sponges look like classic bath sponges, others look like vases. Glass sponges are one of my favorites. They have small spines and look like chandeliers or sculptures under a microscope.
Maybe more species
Researchers assume that not all animal species have been found in the area yet. They found only one specimen of many animals, which is an indication that they may have overlooked the species in question. So they also applied mathematics to their data, thus coming up with an estimate of the region’s total species richness in two ways: one calculation came to 6,233 animal species, the other to 7,620 species.
“This is very important and good research,” says Sabine Gollner, a marine biologist who conducts research in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Marine Research. After all, if you don’t know what lives there, it’s very difficult to protect it.
According to Gollner, it is necessary to designate more parts of the Clarion-Clipperton area as protected areas. In the parts with the highest number of manganese nodules, priority has so far been given to mining companies. But more different species seem to live among those tubers than anywhere else. So we also have to protect this ecosystem.
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