Toronto (CTV Network) — More than 5,000 new species have been discovered at an expansive future deep-sea mining site in the Pacific Ocean.
Known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), the mineral-rich site stretches six million square kilometers from Mexico to Hawaii. About twice the size of India, the CCZ has already been carved up into mining concessions for future development, with companies eager to harvest abundant deposits of key battery materials such as manganese and cobalt lying 4,000 to 6,000 meters below the surface. surface.
To better understand what might be at risk once mining begins, a team of biologists led by London’s Natural History Museum set out to study the region’s biodiversity. Of the 5,578 species they identified, approximately 90 percent were completely new to science.
“We share this planet with all this amazing biodiversity, and we have a responsibility to understand and protect it,” said lead author and Museum of Natural History deep-sea ecologist Muriel Rabone in a press release last week. “There are so many wonderful species in the CCZ, and with the possibility of mining looming, it’s doubly important that we know more about these really understudied habitats.”
The team compiled a list of all the species found in previous surveys of the region and also embarked on their own research expeditions to study the ocean floor. Using techniques like remote-controlled vehicles and box-core sampling, which is basically a box that collects material from the seafloor, they collected more than 100,000 records of creatures from the depths of this largely intact underwater desert.
“It’s a big ship, but it feels tiny in the middle of the ocean,” Rabone said of the research cruises. “And it was amazing: in every case core sample, we were seeing new species.”
The most common types of animals were arthropods such as worms and sponges. The newly discovered species included what is known as the “gummy squirrel,” a gelatinous-looking sea cucumber with a large protuberance shaped like a tail. Only six species have been seen in other parts of the ocean.
“Some of the sponges look like classic bath sponges and some look like vases. They are just beautiful,” Rabone said. “One of my favorites are glass sponges. They have these little spines and under the microscope they look like little candlesticks or little sculptures.”
The peer-reviewed study, which includes images, was published in the journal Current Biology last week.
The UN-affiliated International Seabed Authority, which was created to regulate mining in international waters, begins accepting applications to mine the CCZ in July. Commercial deep-sea mining, which is still in an exploratory phase, would harvest potato-sized deposits known as “polymetallic nodules” that can be found on and just below the region’s seafloor.
“There are so many wonderful species in the CCZ, and with the possibility of mining looming, it’s doubly important that we know more about these really understudied habitats,” Rabone said.
While companies and countries like China and the US pursue deep-sea mining, others like France, Chile and Canada have called for moratoriums or bans on their waters over environmental concerns.