Scientists from the Natural History Museum in the UK have discovered 30 new species living in the deep sea, which include starfish to sea cucumbers. The species have been found in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the central Pacific using a remotely operated vehicle.
The team using the vehicle extracted specimens to the surface for detailed analysis of the organism and to understand the marine environment in the region of the world that remains least explored. What surprised the team was that of the 55 specimens that had been recovered from the deep sea, 48 of them were new.
In a study published in the journal Zookeys, scientists have detailed that in order to effectively manage potential exploitation activities, a thorough understanding of the biodiversity, community structure, species ranges, connectivity, and ecosystem functions across a range of scales is needed.
Psychropotes dyscrita, nicknamed the gummy squirrel, is a type of sea cucumber found in the deep ocean. (Photo: DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA)
The museum in a statement said that research is important not only due to the number of potentially new species discovered but because these megafauna specimens have previously only been studied from seabed images and added that this study is the first to suggest that diversity may be very high in these groups as well. We have known very little about megafauna.
The discovery was made in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the Central Pacific, which covers nearly five million square kilometers of the area between Hawaii and Mexico. The zone is nearly 5,500 meters deep, nearly as deep as Mount Kilimanjaro is high. The region has for long attracted marine biologists since its flat abyssal plains are covered in potato-sized mineral lumps known as polymetallic nodules. These are rich in important 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.
Peniagone vitrea is one of the oldest deep sea species known, being discovered by the Challenger expedition in the 1870s. (Photo: DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA)
“The deep sea is pretty understudied. It’s very expensive to go out on research cruises, and they don’t generally return to the same areas. One problem is that in the CCZ, areas have been protected but we know rather little about them,” Dr. Guadalupe Bribiesca-Contreras, lead author of the study said.
The ROV collected evidence of 48 species, of which just nine were known to science, which it is difficult to assess as of yet, the remaining 39 could be new species.
“I was definitely not expecting to find so many animals. We were not certain that there would be any known species from the area as so many species are yet to be described,” Guadalupe added.
The researchers sampled the APEIs using a ROV, to collect 55 specimens. (Photo: DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA)
The team now aims to continue building a picture of the marine life thriving in the ocean.