5,000 Species Discovered In Pacific Mining Zone

Researchers have discovered 5,578 different species in the pacific ocean.

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone, a region spanning about 5,000 kilometres between Hawaii and Mexico, is home to polymetallic nodules which are a potential source for copper, nickel, iron, and other rare earth metals. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) regulates deep-sea mining in this region and has granted contracts for mining exploration in the region to 16 companies.

To understand what may be at risk when mining starts, ecologists and biologists began exploring the CCZ led by the study’s lead author Muriel Rabone who is a deep-sea ecologist at the Natural History Museum in London.

Muriel Rabone
Muriel Rabone

The most common life in the underwater region is arthropods, worms, echinoderms (like sea urchins) and sponges, one of which was carnivorous. “They’re just beautiful,” Rabone said in a press release talking about the different types of sponges they found in the region.

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone is one of the last few regions of the ocean with highly intact wilderness. Roughly 90% of the 5,578 different species discovered there have never been seen before. 

The researchers used what is called a ‘box core sampling’ method to study the biodiversity of the CCZ where they place boxes on the ocean floor to collect specimens to be studied. “It was amazing,” Rabone remarked, “every single box we would see a new species”. The team went through some 100,000 records of creatures they found during the study period. Only 6 of the new species they found have been found outside the CCZ to date. 

The team notes the importance of future studies into the region that are collaborative, cohesive, and multidisciplinary so we can gain a deeper understanding of CCZ’s biodiversity. The potential future mining operations in the region may destroy many of these unique species and leave them with no home. It is urgently important to learn more about the environment and biogeography in which these species thrive in order to protect and provide shelter to them.

Deep-sea mining poses a great threat to the fragile and complex marine ecosystems. The process can kick up lots of sediment which will bury the marine life that live on the ocean floor and make navigation difficult for marine life that live across the different layers of the ocean. A full-scale deep-sea mining operation is estimated to produce 500 million cubic metres (approximately 500 billion kg) of discharge in just 30 years. 

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