- Clarion-Clipperton Zone covers 4,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean
- The area has lots of minerals for mining, including copper and nickel
- However scientists have also found huge diversity of fish and plants
- Researchers hope findings will mitigate environmental impact of mining
Shivali Best | Daily Mail | 29 July 2016
A vast area of seabed targeted for deep sea mining is home to species previously unknown to man, a study warned.
The seafloor in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, which covers 4,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean, appears to have a particularly diverse ecosystem.
It is estimated there are billions of dollars worth of coveted minerals such as gold on the sea floor.
Yet scientists fear this exploitation may deprive them of studying creatures of the depths that have so far eluded the attention of man.
The study, by researchers at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), found that more than half of the species at the site were new to science.
Dr Diva Amon, lead author of the study, said: ‘We found that this exploration claim area harbours one of the most diverse communities of megafauna – animals over two centimetres in size – to be recorded at abyssal depths in the deep sea.’
The area has a high concentration of polymetallic manganese nodules, which are potentially valuable resources of copper, nickel, and other metals.
The researchers used a remotely operated vehicle to survey the sea floor at five sites to estimate the abundance and diversity of the ecosystems.
They found that the areas with more manganese nodules appeared to have more animals.
Megafauna in the area also appeared to be dependent on the nodules, which suggests that removing them for mining could negatively impact their diversity.
Dr Amon said: ‘The biggest surprises of this study were the high diversity, the large numbers of new species and the fact that more than half of the species seen rely on the nodules – the very part of the habitat that will be removed during the mining process.’
Despite these findings, which are published in Scientific Reports plans are still going ahead to begin mining.
The researchers will be publishing more papers about the seafloor biology of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, which they hope will help effectively manage the area and mitigate the environmental impacts of deep-sea mining.
CAPTURING MARINE ORGANISMS IN THEIR NATURAL HABITAT
Although corals and algae can be imaged in laboratories, a lot of information is lost outside their natural environment.
The physical environment is continuously changing with variations in oxygen, pH, temperature and fluid motion.
Organisms interact with each other in complex and non-linear ways across a wide range of scales.
Additionally, many of these biological and physical processes are coupled and influence one another.
It is difficult to study these processes in the lab, as it is impossible to fully replicate the intricacies of these natural systems.
As a result, a distinct need exists to make observations of important environmental processes, under natural conditions.