- In 2011, a team of marine biologists sent a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to undersea vents 1.7 miles deep in Longqui.
- They identified more than a dozen vents, many of which are rich in copper and gold.
- The ROV also collected specimens of six new species not yet recorded from anywhere else in the ocean.
Thousands of hydrothermal vents — chimney-like structures spewing hot water clouds of minerals and nutrients — dot the ocean floor, buzzing with marine life of various kinds.
At one such undersea hot spring in the southwest Indian Ocean, a team of marine biologists have discovered unique marine life, including six species new to science, according to a new study published in Scientific Reports.
In 2011, the team, led by Dr Jon Copley of the University of Southampton in the U.K., sent a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to undersea vents 2.8 kilometers (~1.7 miles) deep at a place called Longqi or ‘Dragon’s Breath’, 1,243 miles southeast of Madagascar.
They identified over a dozen vents, some rising more than two stories above the sea floor. Many of these vents spurt out hot water rich in copper and gold, which is attracting interest for future seafloor mining, the researchers say.
The ROV also collected specimens of animals that thrive in these vents’ mineral-rich environment. Six of these species are new to science, and have not yet recorded from anywhere else in the ocean.
One such deep-sea animal is a hairy-chested ‘Hoff’ crab, closely related to the Hoff crabs found on hydrothermal vents near Antarctica. The other five include two species of snail, a species of limpet, and two species of deep-sea worms. While one snail has been named Gigantopelta aegis, the others are yet to be formally described, the researchers say.
“We can be certain that the new species we’ve found also live elsewhere in the southwest Indian Ocean, as they will have migrated here from other sites, but at the moment no-one really knows where, or how well-connected their populations are with those at Longqi,” Copley said in a statement.
“Our results highlight the need to explore other hydrothermal vents in the southwest Indian Ocean and investigate the connectivity of their populations, before any impacts from mineral exploration activities and future deep-sea mining can be assessed,” he added.
- J. T. Copley, L. Marsh, A. G. Glover, V. Hühnerbach, V. E. Nye, W. D. K. Reid, C. J. Sweeting, B. D. Wigham, H. Wiklund. Ecology and biogeography of megafauna and macrofauna at the first known deep-sea hydrothermal vents on the ultraslow-spreading Southwest Indian Ridge. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 39158 DOI: 10.1038/srep39158