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Environment

Ecosystems of the deep seas

Before we think about exploiting the deep seas for their mineral wealth, it is essential that we understand the unique and fragile ecosystems of these dark waters with their wondrous and diverse life forms so that we do not repeat the mistakes that have destroyed terrestrial ecosystems and contributed to climate change.

 

The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer images a newly discovered hydrothermal vent.
The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer images a newly discovered hydrothermal vent.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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Ocean layers.
Ocean layers.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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An octopus at a seep site.
An octopus at a seep site.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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The autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry.
The autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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Alvin uses one of its manipulator arms to take samples from the sea floor. Alvin is a three-manned American deep-sea submersible fitted with sophisticated equipment.
Alvin uses one of its manipulator arms to take samples from the sea floor. Alvin is a three-manned American deep-sea submersible fitted with sophisticated equipment.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A seamount at a depth of 2,465 metres.
A seamount at a depth of 2,465 metres.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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Glass sponges are visible in the foreground of this sponge community found at a depth of about 2,360 m.
Glass sponges are visible in the foreground of this sponge community found at a depth of about 2,360 m.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A translucent egg case with a catshark embryo actively swimming inside it.
A translucent egg case with a catshark embryo actively swimming inside it.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A copepod family Aetideidae) laden with eggs.
A copepod family Aetideidae) laden with eggs.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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The octocoral Iridigorgia with squat lobsters on it, in the north-western Gulf of Mexico.
The octocoral Iridigorgia with squat lobsters on it, in the north-western Gulf of Mexico.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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The curlicue shape is a characteristic of Iridogorgia.
The curlicue shape is a characteristic of Iridogorgia.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A hydrothermal vent chimney.
A hydrothermal vent chimney.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A vent emitting droplets of liquid carbon dioxide.
A vent emitting droplets of liquid carbon dioxide.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A seep site with clusters of live Bathymodiolus mussels (left side, foreground, and background).
A seep site with clusters of live Bathymodiolus mussels (left side, foreground, and background).Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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An aggregation of Lamellibrachia sp. tubeworms providing a habitat for many smaller animals.
An aggregation of Lamellibrachia sp. tubeworms providing a habitat for many smaller animals.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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The giant tubeworm Riftia pachyptila.
The giant tubeworm Riftia pachyptila.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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Sea cucumbers (Chiridota heheva) with chemosynthetic Bathymodiolus mussels at a cold seep.
Sea cucumbers (Chiridota heheva) with chemosynthetic Bathymodiolus mussels at a cold seep.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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An aggregation of ice worms inhabiting methane hydrate. These worms eat chemoautotrophic bacteria using chemicals in the hydrate.
An aggregation of ice worms inhabiting methane hydrate. These worms eat chemoautotrophic bacteria using chemicals in the hydrate.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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The bone-eating worm Osedax.
The bone-eating worm Osedax.Photo: Courtesy of Greg Rouse
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Methane bubbles flow in small streams out of the sediment on an area of sea floor. Quill worms, anemones and patches of microbial mat can be seen in the periphery.
Methane bubbles flow in small streams out of the sediment on an area of sea floor. Quill worms, anemones and patches of microbial mat can be seen in the periphery.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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Tubeworms associated with seeps. These worms are related to but differ from the giant tubeworms found around hydrothermal vents.
Tubeworms associated with seeps. These worms are related to but differ from the giant tubeworms found around hydrothermal vents.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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The site of a whale fall. When a whale dies and sinks to the sea floor, it is feast time for several organisms for several years to come.
The site of a whale fall. When a whale dies and sinks to the sea floor, it is feast time for several organisms for several years to come.Photo: Courtesy of Craig Smith, University of Hawaii.
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A purple squat lobster with stalked barnacles attached to it. This lobster is a scavenger and is among the first creatures to arrive at the scene of a whale fall.
A purple squat lobster with stalked barnacles attached to it. This lobster is a scavenger and is among the first creatures to arrive at the scene of a whale fall.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A squat lobster perching on an undescribed genus of bamboo coral. This lobster is a scavenger and is among the first creatures to arrive at the scene of a whale fall.
A squat lobster perching on an undescribed genus of bamboo coral. This lobster is a scavenger and is among the first creatures to arrive at the scene of a whale fall.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A coral garden. Like their shallow warm-water cousins, cold-water corals provide a habitat for several deep-sea creatures.
A coral garden. Like their shallow warm-water cousins, cold-water corals provide a habitat for several deep-sea creatures.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A deep-sea red crab hangs out on a bubblegum coral.
A deep-sea red crab hangs out on a bubblegum coral.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A hard rock area with a very high coral diversity on a seamount complex.
A hard rock area with a very high coral diversity on a seamount complex.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A sea pen (Pennatulacea) on the soft sediment of the sea floor.
A sea pen (Pennatulacea) on the soft sediment of the sea floor.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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Bright yellow parasitic zoanthids encrusting a glass sponge.
Bright yellow parasitic zoanthids encrusting a glass sponge.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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Sulphide chimneys coated with an iron-based microbial mat at a vent site.
Sulphide chimneys coated with an iron-based microbial mat at a vent site.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A yellow bamboo coral. Deep-sea corals obtain their nutrition by trapping tiny organisms that the ocean currents bring to them.
A yellow bamboo coral. Deep-sea corals obtain their nutrition by trapping tiny organisms that the ocean currents bring to them.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A sponge covered with hundreds to thousands of tiny anemones also provides a home to several brittlestars (pink), sea lilies (yellow) and a basket star (brown).
A sponge covered with hundreds to thousands of tiny anemones also provides a home to several brittlestars (pink), sea lilies (yellow) and a basket star (brown).Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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A new species of vent-endemic flatfish.
A new species of vent-endemic flatfish.Photo: Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer
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