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Deep sea, hot spring discoveries may be new animal species

posted 29 Dec 2011, 08:56 by Mpelembe   [ updated 29 Dec 2011, 08:59 ]

Marine biologists from the UK say they may have discovered new animal species living beside deep sea volcanic vents in the Indian Ocean. The scientists are still examining the animals and underwater footage taken during a recent voyage the South West Indian Ridge, to determine if the sealife they encountered has ever been described before.

AT SEA, DRAGON VENT FIELD, SOUTHWEST INDIAN RIDGE, INDIAN OCEAN (NOVEMBER 28, 2011) (UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON) - Researchers on an exploratory mission in the Indian Ocean have been analysing various animal life found by deep sea hot-spring vents and think some of the species they came across may be new discoveries.

The UK team from the National Oceanography Centre at Southampton University travelled to the South West Indian Ocean on board the research ship, RRS James Cook, along with engineers from the UK National Marine Facilities.

Using the Kiel 6000, an underwater remote-controlled robot, the scientists were able to film the vents, often referred to as 'black smokers', at a depth of 2777 metres.

Dr Jon Copley's team chose to embark on the 72 hour investigation into the 'Dragon Vent Field' after similar vents were discovered in the Mid-Atlantic ridge, which joins to the Central Indian Ridge.

"It will help us understand how animals survive in deeper parts of the ocean.We've only been exploring for 50 years. The journey of discovery has just begun." he said

At the hot spring vents, which are found close to underwater volcanoes forming the earth's new crust, in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, mussels, shrimp, and anemones have been found.

On the Central Indian Ridge, scientists found scaly-foot snails, hairy snails, mussels, stalked barnacles, and other species of shrimp and anemones.

Dr Copley's team found, in the Dragon Vent Field on the South West Indian Ridge, scaly-foot snails and shrimp in the hottest habitat around the 'black smokers'.

The team also found 'yeti-crabs', which had not been found at the Mid-Atlantic or Central Indian vents, as well as a pale, snake-like species of sea cucumber - a species known only from vents in the Pacific.

The team plan to examine the species back in their UK laboratory to verify they are previously undiscovered species, and assess the differences in marine life in the South West Indian Ridge compared to other vent fields.

They intend to analyse whether ocean currents isolate the 'Dragon Vent Field' and look at whether the differences in chemistry contribute to the unusual shapes and colours found in the South West Indian Ridge.

Exploratory mining on the ridge was licensed earlier in 2011 by the International Seabed Authority.

Dr Copley said: "There will certainly be more colonies at other vents along the SW Indian Ridge, but for now we don't know where, or how interconnected their populations are. The impacts of exploratory mining here, will be uncertain until we have that knowledge."