Scientists have discovered more than 30 potentially new species living at the bottom of the sea.
Researchers from the UK’s Natural History Museum used a remote-operated vehicle to collect specimens from the abyssal plains of the Clarion-Clipperton zone in the central Pacific. Previously, the creatures of this region had only been studied from photographs.
The study, published in the journal Zookeys, found that there is a great diversity of species of larger organisms in the abyss. Of the 55 specimens recovered, 48 belonged to different species.
Animals found include segmented worms, invertebrates from the same family as centipedes, marine animals from the same family as jellyfish, and different types of coral.
Thirty-six specimens were found over 4,800 meters deep, two were collected from a seamount slope at 4,125 meters and 17 were found between 3,095 and 3,562 meters deep.
The findings have potentially significant implications for deep-sea mining, as humans are becoming more interested in mining seabed minerals as it appears the activity has the potential to upset many creatures.
The study’s lead author, Dr Guadalupe Bribiesca-Contreras, of the Natural History Museum, said: “This research is important not only because of the number of potentially new species discovered, but because these specimens of megafauna have previously only been studied from images of the seabed. Without specimens and the DNA data they contain, we cannot correctly identify animals and understand how many different species there are.
Dr Adrian Glover, who heads the Deep Sea Research Group at the Natural History Museum, said: “We know that millimeter-sized animals called macrofauna are extremely rich in biodiversity in the abyss. However, we never really had much information about the larger animals we call megafauna, because very few samples were collected. This study is the first to suggest that diversity may also be very high in these groups.