Deep beneath the high seas, researchers found rich coral science

Corals at a submerged summit debut seamount 2000 meters below the surface in the North Pacific Ocean

© NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

By Ian Morse

For the purpose of conservation on the high seas, a team of marine researchers today released the first comprehensive survey of coral reefs in the High Courts — about two-thirds of the sea outside the National Courts.

After combing through more than half a million observations of reef-building corals, the team identified 116 reefs located in the high seas. Most of these corals live 200 to 1200 meters below the surface, researchers found. But a handful are found more than 2 kilometers deep. And there are chances that many more high-sea corals can still be found, the authors note, as corals usually have been preferred closer to the coast in surveys.

The study coincides with the launch of coral reefs on the High Seas Alliance, a group of scientists and nonprofit organizations aimed at surveying steep, deep-water slopes for research cruises where many reefs sit. Ultimately, the coalition hopes the data will help explain policy determinants to give more protection to these degraded ecosystems that are currently compromised in the global settlement.

“Some of the first marine protected areas were specifically designed around coral reefs. … so much literature suggests that these are ocean rainforests, “co-author Daniel Wagner, coordinator of the Alliance and an ocean technical consultant at Conservation International. A coalition of non-profit organizations hopes to influence the implementation of the United Nations Treaty, the Inter-Governmental Convention on Marine Biodiversity of regions beyond national jurisdiction, which is expected to establish rules to establish marine conservation on the high seas . (A final meeting of scheduled negotiators was postponed earlier this year due to the COVID-19 epidemic.)

The “deepest rocks” in the coalition’s notes are the highest under some of the surveys of all ocean ecosystems, and because they are not protected by the laws of any country, they are among the weakest and potentially overflowing rocks on Earth . ”

Studies show that scientists have much to learn about corals beyond the coasts. All records of high-sea corals were scleractinian, a common family of hardy, reef-building corals, and some were seen much deeper than where they are commonly found. Most of the reefs were found on cemotes, escarpments, and submarine ridges in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, with a small minority in the Indian Ocean.

This study also draws attention to the need to coordinate protection from human activities at sea. It was found that only one-fifth of the known deep-sea reefs are protected from bottom fishing, for example, and none are protected from the various effects of shipping. A known reef already exists in the area protected by the Seabed Mining Regulator International Seabed Authority, and two active mining exploration contracts are near.

Campaign challenges

The coalition is racing to gather more information on the reefs of the high seas, but pandemic sanctions delayed its first two expeditions until early 2022. The first expedition was scheduled to take off from the coast later this year for seapots near Rapa Jui or Easter Island. in Chile. Seamounts fall within Chile’s national waters, and are already included in a national marine reserve. But expedition leader Richard Pyle, an iconathologist at the Bishop Museum, known for his work on dimly lit mesophotic reefs, hopes the high seas will be representative of coral reefs and support the legal rationale for marine reserve protection Can.

A second expedition will explore several slopes along the slope with Salas y Gómez, Nazca and Juan Fernandez. Tina Molodesova, a senior scientific cruise leader at the PP Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, says the undersea world is “very special in terms of biography.” Two decades ago, an expedition to documented creatures in the region has not been found elsewhere. She hopes to “see what they call ‘coral gardens’ in the deep sea,” including bamboo corals and glass sponges with structural spicules similar to glass made of silica.

High maritime expeditions do not come cheap, each costing more than $ 1 million. Therefore, at the moment, the coalition has set a more modest target in the next few years to raise $ 3 million for pilot surveys of certain targets and to finance films to screen policy makers. The immediate goal, Wagner says, is to collect “like a snapshot”. We are trying to get there, and then quickly present that information to policy makers. ”

For Pyle, one goal of such expeditions is to document seamount ecosystems before pursuing human activities “without any recovery point in the past, before we even knew what they were, what they meant. Was, and what is his role in the big picture. ”

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