Sink or swim for the worlds’ last great ecological frontier

4 November 2004 “Peering through the thick glass windows of their submersible, the ocean scientists were greeted by a sight no one on Earth had ever seen before. In front of them, smoking towers of deep-sea hydrothermal vents teemed improbably with creatures, including giant tube worms and yellow mussels. As the crew of the research vessel Alvin stared in wonder, it probably didn't occur to them that this newly discovered biodiversity at the bottom of the ocean might one day need to be protected from people. But that was 1977… [Today] conservation biologists generally agree that unique habitats in the open sea such as hydrothermal vents, seamounts and cold-water reefs require urgent protection.” In this article published in the November edition of Nature, Henry Nicholls looks at plans to protect unique marine habitats by establishing a network of marine reserves in the open ocean to turn the tide of destruction caused by, among other destructive practices, bottom trawling. Read the full feature (subscribers).
• To get an idea of the fascinating underwater world first encountered by the Alvin crew, take a trip to the seafloor with NOAA Ocean Explorer and explore the hydrothermal vents of the Magic Mountain Chimney Fields.
Visit WWF to find out more about their work to protect sites in deep sea ecosystems such as cold water coral reefs (factsheet) and hydrothermal vents.