The depths of the ocean are home to some of the strangest animals on this planet, many of which look like something right out of an alien movie. As one of the most difficult to reach environments in the world, undiscovered creatures lurk in the darkness, waiting to be studied.
According to an article published in Science Daily, these new animals play an important role in deciding the fate of mineral-rich ocean environments.
A team of researchers from the University of Southampton, headed up by Dr. Jon Copley, headed out on an expedition in November of 2011 to study sea life around undersea hot springs located 2.8 kilometers deep in the Southwest Indian Ocean. What they discovered were incredible deep-sea animals, several of which had never been documented before.
These amazing creatures range from a hairy-chested “Hoff” crab to a new species of scaleworm, all living around hydrothermal vents in the Longqi (or, Dragon’s Breath) region.
The vents at Longqi are the first discovered in the region and are rich in copper and gold, making them prime potential locations for seafloor mining. However, the impacts of such mining on the local sea life are unknown.
Studies conducted by colleagues at the Natural History Museum in London and Newcastle University confirmed that several of the species found in the Indian Ocean have not been found anywhere else in the world, making it important to understand how deep-sea mining could impact local sea creatures.
“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,” said Dr. Copley.
Learning about the incredible creatures that live in the depths can help us better understand our impact on the environment and protect the animals that are yet to be discovered.
Top photo by prilfish CC BY 2.0
Lauren Leising is a science intern and a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.