Oxford University Led the Way in Discovering New Species on Seafloor Near Antarctica

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Led by Professor Alex Rogers of Oxford University's Department of Zoology, researchers have discovered previously unknown marine species and organisms. They found an octopus in addition to new species of starfish, sea anemones, barnacles and yeti crab.

Found on the dark ocean floor near Antarctica, these new species were discovered around hydrothermal vents. Reaching temperatures up to 382 degrees C, these hydrothermal vents offer a truly unique environment. Species have adapted to the lack of sunlight and thrive in chemically rich waters.

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Hydrothermal vents are home to animals found nowhere else on the planet that get their energy not from the Sun but from breaking down chemicals, such as hydrogen sulphide. – Professor Alex Rogers of Oxford University's Department of Zoology

Unidentified octopus on sea floor near heat vents. New species of Yeti Crab near heat vent chimneys on ocean floor.
Unidentified Octopus and colonies of Yeti crab. Both photos courtesy of Oxford University.

These new species suggest that hydrothermal vent ecosystems are more diverse than what scientists originally thought. Even on a global level the ecosystem found around Antarctica vents are completely unique to other vent communities.

Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Made this Possible

As the depths that led to this discovery are unattainable by humans, the ROV enabled the exploration of the deep Southern Ocean. Modern technology allowed this submersible to enter an extremely inhospitable environment that might never have been discovered. 

From Icy Species Found at Hot Vents Below the Icy Southern Ocean:

The ROV dives brought back images showing huge colonies of the new species of yeti crab, thought to dominate the Antarctic vent ecosystem, clustered around vent chimneys.

Elsewhere, the ROV spotted numbers of a previously undescribed predatory seastar with seven arms crawling across fields of stalked barnacles.

The ROV's camera documented an unidentified pale octopus on the seafloor nearly 2,400 meters (1.5 miles) beneath the surface.

"What we didn't find is almost as surprising as what we did," said Rogers. "Many animals such as tubeworms, vent mussels, vent crabs, and vent shrimps, found in hydrothermal vents in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, simply weren't there."

Conclusion: Diverse Ecosystems at Heat Vents

Complex ecosystems that rely on extreme heat and water rich in certain chemicals, this discovery of several new ocean species proves to scientists that there is rich biodiversity in the oceans. The seas are rich natural habitats for unique and unknown animals, plants and microorganisms. Some are found in specific areas and not in others.

With the latest research report in Jun 2011 warning that ocean life and marine species are at a risk of entering a phase of extinction we need to learn more and protect these ecosystems. This possible extinction is unprecedented in our history.

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