5K New Deep-Sea Species Discovered in Pacific

They include the 'gummy squirrel'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 28, 2023 6:40 AM CDT
5K New Species Found in Deep-Sea Mining Zone
A remotely operated vehicle collects a sea cucumber from a CCZ seamount.   (NOAA)

It's a bittersweet moment for science—thousands of new species have been discovered in a largely untouched and unexplored region of the Pacific Ocean, but large-scale deep-sea mining in the area could begin soon. In the journal Current Biology, researchers who reviewed environmental surveys say 5,148 species new to science have been found in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone—CCZ—a vast area between Mexico and Hawaii. The researchers say around 90% of the species expeditions found in the area were previously unknown. They say learning more about life in the region is "vital to understanding ecological processes and risks of biodiversity loss."

Expeditions using remotely operated vehicles searched the abyssal seafloor at depths from 13,000 feet to 20,000 feet. "We found at least 10 species of giant sea cucumbers, a huge squid worm never seen before in the Pacific Ocean, and all kinds of sponges and other animals with really neat adaptations, such as sea cucumbers with long tails that allow them to sail along the seafloor," scientist Craig Smith said after one expedition, per NOAA. A photo gallery of some of the species, including the lobster-like munidopsis and a creature known as the "gummy squirrel," can be seen here.

Senior study author Adrian Glover, a deep-sea biologist at Britain's Natural History Museum, tells the Guardian that the seabed is an "amazing" place. "One of the characteristics of the abyssal plane is the lack of food, but life has a way of persisting down there,” he says. "It’s a mystery." Some 17 deep-sea mining contractors have been granted contracts to explore a 745,000 square mile area of the CCZ for minerals including cobalt, manganese, and nickel. The International Seabed Authority will begin accepting applications for mining in July.

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Glover, asked about calls for a moratorium on deep-sea mining, said the role of scientists is not to decide if it can go ahead—it is to provide the data. "Everyone who lives on this planet should be concerned about using it in a sustainable way," he said, adding that in some ways, it's "very positive that we can come up with a regulatory structure before mining takes place," unlike with industries like oil and gas. (More discoveries stories.)

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