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Over 30 "Potential New" Marine Species Discovered in Deep Pacific

29th July 2022
A yellow gummy squirrel on the seabed - Psychropotes dyscrita, nicknamed the gummy squirrel, is a type of sea cucumber found in the deep ocean
A yellow gummy squirrel on the seabed - Psychropotes dyscrita, nicknamed the gummy squirrel, is a type of sea cucumber found in the deep ocean Credit: Image © DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA.

A Pacific expedition has discovered over 30 “potentially new” marine species ranging from sea cucumbers to starfish.

The new species were collected by a team from Britain’s Natural History Museum, using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in the abyssal plans of the Clarion-Clipperton zone of the central Pacific – an area rich in minerals and the focus of deep sea mining.

Lead author of the study, Dr Guadalupe Bribiesca-Contreras, said the megafauna specimens had previously only been studied from seabed images.

Peniagone vitrea is one of the oldest deep sea species known, being discovered by the Challenger expedition in the 1870s. Image © DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA.Peniagone vitrea is one of the oldest deep sea species known, being discovered by the Challenger expedition in the 1870s. Image © DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA.

“Without the specimens and the DNA data they hold, we cannot properly identify the animals and understand how many different species there are,” he said.

Of some 55 specimens recovered, 48 were different species. Dr Adrian Glover of the Natural History Museum’s Deep Sea Research Group said that it was known that “small millimetre-sized animals called macrofauna are extremely biodiverse in the abyss”.

“However, we have never really had much information on the larger animals we call megafauna, as so few samples have been collected,” Dr Glover said.

“ This study is the first to suggest that diversity may be very high in these groups as well,” he said.

The researchers say the findings add further evidence that the majority of deep sea life is yet to be discovered.

This unidentified Zoroaster starfish is one of the species that may be new to science. Image © DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA.This unidentified Zoroaster starfish is one of the species that may be new to science. Image © DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA.

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone covers over five million square kilometres in the Pacific Ocean, lying between Hawaii and Mexico, and is around 5,500 metres at its deepest – nearly as deep as Mount Kilimanjaro is high.

Large portions of its flat abyssal plans are covered in polymetallic nodules – mineral lumps the size of potatoes which are rich in key metals such as cobalt, nickel, manganese and copper. It has been estimated that there is more cobalt and nickel in polymetallic nodules than can be found on land.

Four specimens of Psychronaetes sea cucumber were collected, and are thought to represent a new species. Image © DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA.Four specimens of Psychronaetes sea cucumber were collected, and are thought to represent a new species. Image © DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA.

These minerals are required for wind turbines, electric cars and other net-zero energy technologies, so there is a push for seabed mining to pave the way for a green revolution.

However, opponents worry that seabed mining could cause irreparable damage to seafloor ecosystems.

The CCZ is a focus of scientific research to evaluate the impacts of seabed mining on this environment, and the study examined three of the protected Areas of Particular Environmental Interest.

The study was funded with grants from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the leadership of Prof Emeritus Craig Smith of the University of Hawaii.'

The paper in Zookeys is available here

Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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