Beneath the shimmering surface of the Pacific Ocean, in the vast expanse between Mexico and Hawaii, lies the Pacific Ocean. Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ). At the bottom of this watershed, between 12,000 and 18,000 feet below sea level, there is a large and muddy gulf with seamounts, which covers about 1.7 million square kilometers. There, it is very cold and dark. No light can reach that depth. The temperature goes below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Food is scarce. However, CCZ sludge is not productive.
Although a marine desert is sometimes referred to as a desert, “it’s amazing how much water there is,” he said. Adrian Glover, a researcher at the United Kingdom’s Natural History Museum in London, in a video with Gizmodo. By his count, Glover has been on six or seven trips to visit and explore the CCZ. For every specimen that is seen being collected, towed aboard by a long wire, or collected by a rover, there is life. “We grind mud samples at high altitudes, we look at the animals we’ve picked up with a remote vehicle—a robotic submarine—or we take videos and pictures.” There are no special creatures to see.
Now, a new study simultaneously reveals the diverse and poorly understood nature of the CCZ. We don’t know what’s there, but it’s a deep, deep push mines can cause permanent damage the universe before we even understand it.
You see, CCZ isn’t all mud and water. Also inside the mud is in water polymetallic nodules. These potato-sized minerals form naturally on the sides of the deep sea over millions of years as minerals coalesce. Special gemstones contain copper, nickel, cobalt, lithium, and rare earth metals—needs and wants in making batteries and electronics. People have known about these particles for many years, and there have been many discussions about mining during that time. But now the opportunity for such mining to progress is greater than ever.
The UN-affiliated International Seabed Authority, the international body that oversees the international waters of the CCZ, has said it will begin accepting applications from mining companies. in July. These organizations began researching and staking their claim in this area years ago. CCZ is already there divided in half different companies. Now, the ISA will begin reviewing specific plans to remove the nodule.
It is not 100% certain that mining will progress, or when it will. But very little is at stake if it is. About 90% of CCZ species remain unknown to science, according to lesson published Thursday in the journal Current Biology. That number agrees with other observations, and emphasizes how the less visible parts of our planet exist.
Marine scientists and mining companies have conducted extensive environmental research in the CCZ—collecting data and samples from the area dating back to The Challenger expedition in the 1870s. However, we are still a long way from analyzing all available data. In the new study, scientists – including Glover – reviewed all the publicly available records of the species from the region. Of the 5,580 species recorded in the database, only 436 were previously identified and named as species. The rest was a mystery, in which no new life had ever been discovered.
“It’s small, but colorful,” said Muriel Rabone, curator and marine biologist at London’s Natural History Museum. Rabone is the lead author of the new study. He spent nearly two years doing extensive research, with the help of Glover and other co-authors. Together, the researchers found a variety of antagonists, including shrimp, sponges, crustaceans, worms, and fish throughout history. But it seems that there are few species of any kind, and almost nothing is known about most of them. In many cases, a single individual recorded may be the only evidence of an entire evolutionary line.
Rabone and his co-authors conducted the study to begin compiling a list of the biodiversity of the CCZ, an early effort for the region. The purpose of such a list is to find the basis of the environment: To know what should be there and what each thing usually does. Ideally, this would allow monitoring of mining and other human impacts, as well as be useful in assessing the health of the CCZ. But Rabone’s list is incomplete because the data is incomplete. “There are huge gaps in compliance,” he told Gizmodo. “We are at the tip of the iceberg.”
“If mining continues, we don’t know what we can lose because we don’t know what to start with,” Rabone said. “These are incredible creatures. There are also sponges that are actually made of glass,” he gave as one example, “absolutely beautiful animals.”
Most of the CCZ forms are contained within or within polymetallic particles. The cysts are small islands that are hard in the mud. With mining, creatures that depended on tiny particles would disappear along with valuable resources. Dredging can also create underwater debris. Glover explained: “There is a lot of damage. “Like a plow in the field.”
It may be invisible, mindless, but the deep ocean is still intimately connected to the rest of life on Earth. Disturbing the last, unspoiled wilderness can have unintended consequences for everything else. The loss of marine life could lead to damage to near-surface fisheries or even the planet’s air quality, Rabone said. Or maybe a next-generation drug or cancer agent is hiding inside the still-living CCZ invertebrate, suggested by Glover. He realized that marine life they are four times more likely to have them natural resources are created more than earthly things.
This does not mean that mining could not be done permanently. While some damage may be unavoidable, efforts to minimize and set aside safe areas can help. Already, the ISA has done so established databases and areas called areas of particular environmental interest (APEIs) that need to be protected from mining development. However, this was chosen after and around the company’s previous claims and may not include all the species in the area.
To determine what to protect and how to do it, Glover and Rabone agree that extensive research and taxonomic work is needed. In an ideal world, there would be a lot of biological research, even parasites, experimental mining to find out what’s going on in the world, and trying to recover nodules and rehabilitate mining sites before they’re allowed, Rabone said. And maybe, with a lot of knowledge, a lot of money, a lot of discussion about all the stakeholders, and a lot of time – these things can be done.
“In many other parts of the world, the industry comes first, and then the environmental problems come later,” Glover said. At CCZ, we have the opportunity to do things differently. Deep ocean ecosystems may be 90% unknown, at this point, but they should not be dismissed.
Click to see other animals taken from the CCZ recent visit.