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Over 5,000 species found in a seabed set for deep-sea mining, study says

From “undescribed” to “new to science,” over 5,000 species were found in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, a seabed the size of India with 17 incoming deep sea mining explorations.

(CN) — The Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) is a richly biodiverse seabed that stretches across Hawaii, Kiribati and Mexico, measures at roughly the size of India, and is the future subject of corporate deep-sea mining, according to a study published Thursday in Current Biology.

CCZ mineral exploration began in the 1960s, which continues into the present as, under the regulation of the International Seabed Authority, the CCZ currently has 17 contracts for mineral exploration to cover 1.2 million square kilometers of the CCZ’s six million square kilometers, which the study says is due to global demands for nickel, cobalt and other metals. And yet, the study reports a lack of taxonomic work for the region, and CCZ environmental surveys have few formally described species.

Thus, a team of biologists worked on the CCZ Checklist.

By compiling all the species records from previous CCZ research expeditions, the research team reported that they found 5,580 different species in the region. Of that number, the researchers estimated that 92% of the species, including 438 named benthic species, identified in the CCZ are new to science. Although they note that synonym use in the data means this number is likely an overestimate, the researchers suggest that an analysis of recent taxonomic studies supports the theory that 88% of species sampled in the region qualify as undescribed.

The team’s work involved both the study of previous finds and traversing the Pacific Ocean on research cruises to collect their own samples, per the study. Co-author Muriel Rabone noted the difficulty and the rewards of studying the ocean floor with remote-controlled vehicles and the technique known as “box core sampling,” or letting a study box land to the bottom of the ocean.

“It’s a big boat, but it feels tiny in the middle of the ocean. You could see storms rolling in; it’s very dramatic,” said Rabone, a deep sea ecologist at the Natural History Museum London, UK. “And it was amazing — in every single box core sample, we would see new species.”

Through their work, Rabone and her co-authors found that of the 438 named benthic species, only six such as the sea cucumbers Psychronaetes hanseni and Psychropotes dyscrita, as well as the carnivorous sponge, Axoniderma longipinna, contain records in other regions. Per the study, the most common CCZ animal types are arthropods (invertebrates with segmented joints), worms, echinoderms (spiny invertebrates like sea urchins) and sponges.

And though the team added 31 new genera and three new families to the CCZ Checklist, they believe that there is more work to do in the novel taxonomic region. To that end, the researchers hope that future studies and explorations will use multidisciplinary research to better understand the CCZ’s biodiversity, urging others to delve into the region’s biogeography before the deep-sea mining commences.

“We share the same planet with all this amazing biodiversity, and we have a responsibility to understand it and protect it,” said Rabone. “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.”

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Categories / Environment, Science

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