Six new species of marine animals have been discovered on the sea floor of Indian Ocean, living close to a bunch of hot springs.
In a robot led survey, scientists from the Southampton University, Natural History Museum in London and University of Newcastle explored hydrothermal vents in the seabed. Their expedition in November 2011 yielded valuable data and led to the discovery of new organisms living on the ocean floor.
For the research, the scientists explored an area of the Southwest Indian Ridge, which bisects the sea between Antarctica and Africa.
Longqi, the name by which the hot geysers are known, etymologically means "Dragon's Breath." It is located 1,240 miles southeast of Madagascar at 1.7 miles depth below the Indian Ocean's surface.
The area was already licensed for seabed mineral exploration.
The following new creatures were discovered by the expedition with the help of a remote-operated underwater robot.
- Hoff crab
- Giant peltospirid snail
- Whelk-like snail
- Polychaete worm
Migration From Other Regions
"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," said lead researcher Jon Copley, a scientist at the University of Southampton.
Copley and his colleagues shared their discoveries in Scientific Reports.
According to experts, hydrothermal vents are essentially a junction where seawater meets magma and attracts an array of organisms previously unknown to science.
Importance Of Hydrothermal Vents
Already, hydrothermal vents have added more than 400 new animal species. Copley explained that hydrothermal vents are vital as a network of marine life and the one discovered in the Indian Ocean was a single node of the network.
As for the rising concentration of seabed organisms near hot springs, experts see it as a migration of deep sea creatures to warmer regions seeking the warmth from mineral spires surging to big heights.
In addition to the new species, researchers also noted the presence of other marine animals including scale worms found in Antarctic vents.
Threat From Seabed Mining
According to Copley, the results highlight that it is imperative to explore other hydrothermal vents in the southwest Indian Ocean to know the connection of these marine populations before assessing impacts of mineral exploration and deep-sea mining on them.
There is a huge economic value attached to the spires as they are rich in copper and gold and deep sea mining players are interested in them.
Concerns are high about the upcoming plans for seabed mining as that may damage the hot springs and wipe out these rare organisms.
Seabed mining is emerging as a sunrise industry and growth area. Already, contracts have been issued for seabed exploration in high seas by the International Seabed Authority led by the United Nations.
According to reports, more than one million square km of the ocean floor (400,000 square miles) in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans has been earmarked for exploration by 16 countries.