Vulnerable and in need of protection, seamounts are oases of the deep sea

Date: August 30, 2016

By Vienna Saccomanno

This blog was inspired by Dr. Les Watling’s discussion immediately following the recent meeting of the UN General Assembly.

A crinoid – potentially a new species in the Family Thalassometridae – clings to a black coral on the West Florida Escarpment.

Scientists and underwater explorers have discovered submarine mountains scattered beneath the waves that harbor an incredible diversity of marine life. Known as seamounts, these extraordinary places are highly productive oases in the deep sea, and home to extremely fragile, long-lived, rare and sometimes endangered marine life. By rising up from the depths of the ocean to heights of at least 1,000 meters, seamounts increase the upwelling of nutrient rich waters resulting in a remarkable diversity of fishes and other open-ocean animals. Some seamounts function like rest stops for migratory species, such as endangered sperm whales, sea turtles, seabirds and sharks, on vast open-ocean journeys. These remote, deep areas are also a vital frontier for scientific discovery, as research expeditions continue to uncover new and rare marine species.

But people, and our far-reaching environmental impacts, are a significant threat to the marine life that inhabits seamounts all over the world. Commercial fishing, for species like orange roughy, has already resulted in appreciable deterioration of habitats and loss of marine life. Because of this, seamounts are among a number of ocean features known as vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs).


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