Deep-sea Mining May Have Serious Impacts on Newly Discovered Animals, Including the “Casper” Octopod

A newly discovered animal, popularly called the “Casper” octopod, is vulnerable to deep-sea mining activities because the species breeds in proposed mining sites. Mineral extraction in the deep ocean would lead to habitat loss and would put many animals at risk, including species that were only discovered within the last few years. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Current Biology.

Mining companies have recently taken an interest in deep-sea mining. Manganese nodules, clusters of iron and manganese, are found in deep sea crusts. These minerals are commercially valuable and some companies have proposed plans to mine the bottom of the ocean. However, these areas are largely unexplored and understudied. Scientists studying the deep sea are regularly finding new animal species. For example, six new species were just discovered living on hydrothermal vents. Earlier this year, a white finless octopod was discovered in an environment that was rich in manganese nodules. The octopod was nicknamed “Casper” due to its cute, round, and ghostly appearance. It was one of the first finless octopods to be discovered and researchers are worried that the species might already be at risk.

A team of scientists used remotely operated underwater vehicles to study finless octopods in their habitat, two to three miles below the water’s surface. The team found that deep-sea finless octopods (including “Casper”) lay and brood their eggs in dead sponges. These sponges are found in very specific areas: substrates that contain manganese nodules. The team is worried that deep-sea mining could destroy the brooding sites of newly discovered octopod species, preventing the animals from reproducing.

The team’s findings emphasize a need for more research before deep-sea mining operations begin. These activities may inadvertently result in habitat loss for a number of recently described species as well as animals we’ve yet to discover. Deep-sea mining might put the “Casper” octopod and other vulnerable animals at risk of extinction.

REFERENCE

Purser et al. Association of deep-sea incirrate octopods with manganese crusts and nodule fields in the Pacific Ocean. Current Biology (2016).

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