Charting undiscovered marine life – before the deep sea miners move in

“Gummy squirrels”, deep-water eels, and the fossilised remains of whales from 16 million years ago… these are just some of the discoveries being made up to 5,500 metres below the surface of the Pacific Ocean by scientists seeking to limit environmental damage from seabed mining.

Deep CCZ

Tech industries need cobalt, manganese and other elements for the production of everything from smartphones to electric cars. They propose to obtain these from, among other places, deep in international waters – including an area of the Pacific in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone stretching between Hawaii and Mexico.

Researchers have been examining the marine life and underwater landscape of the CCZ, in a bid to persuade the authority charged with regulating deep sea mining in international waters to take steps limiting environmental damage.

Recent expeditions have discovered previously unexpected underwater mountains, and many species of marine worms previously unknown to science. They also identified new species of sea cucumber which they christened “gummy squirrels”, and vast numbers of large, single-celled creatures called xenophyophores. Other researchers found the fossilised remains of whale species, now extinct, that lived up to 16 million years ago.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is responsible for establishing new rules about deep water mining. Researchers are pressing for firm regulations to protect the marine environment, by 2020.

Source and further reading: Nature.com.

Image: Relicanthus sp.—a new species from a new order of Cnidaria collected at 4,100 metres in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCZ) that lives on sponge stalks attached to nodules. Image courtesy of Craig Smith and Diva Amon, ABYSSLINE Project. See Oceanexplorer.noaa.gov.

 

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