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Ocean explorers discover over a 100 new species


Offshore, Bermuda (AP) - Scientists claim a team of deep ocean explorers around Bermuda have discovered more than a hundred new species of marine plants and animals including thirteen new crustaceans.

The task of the Nekton expedition has been to investigate the health and resilience of the Northwest Atlantic.

This shot of this Pristigenys alta, or the short bigeye fish was observed in waters around Bermuda, along with the deepest recorded lionfish.

These creatures were captured by Nekton's submersibles, Nemo and Nomad which were fitted with cameras and instruments to research the state of the deep ocean.

The submersibles explored an area called the Argus Seamount fifteen miles south of the island.

According to the scientific team from the University of Oxford their mission was the first to undertake biological research of the undersea volcano.

The team says there are more than 100,000 seamounts globally but less than 50 have been biologically sampled in detail.

The submersibles also discovered new species black coral, or wire coral on the slopes of Argus. These stand up to three metres high and are thought to be among the new species identified from the expedition.

These forests support communities of sea urchins, green moray eels, yellow hermit crabs and other mobile fauna feeding off zooplankton and algae drifting off the summit and settling on the deep seabed.

The team says the change in species shows there is a new zone in the deep ocean which they call the bathyal zone between three hundred and three thousand metres.

The expedition leader is the University of Oxford's Professor Alex Rogers.

He says: "The big problem we have with understanding the deep ocean is we simply don't understand the distribution of life within it. So the fastest way to change that situation is really to develop a single or a series of global ocean expeditions which enable us to undertake a synoptic sampling of the deep sea to understand those patterns of how life is distributed from 200 metres down to 2000 metres which we call the bathyal zone."

The team says they used the General Ocean Survey and Sampling Iterative Protocol (GOSSIP) to conduct the research in a way with will allow them to compare the wildlife and health of the water here with deep oceans in other parts of the globe.

Principal scientist Dr. Lucy Woodall says: "Right now every day we as humans are impacting those environments. So we need to look at the patterns that we're observing at the moment both the organisms themselves and those communities so that we can better understand how to manage them in the future."

The exploration around Bermuda was supported by various organisations and businesses including Kensington Tours, the governments of Canada and Bermuda, Triton Submersibles, Google-Youtube, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Ocean Elders.

Chris Flook from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences argues the data collected by the expedition will prompt further research.

"We've got this dataset that we have never been able to have. And with that it's basically jumpstarted ability to get grants and funding to do further work because now we know it's the first step hey look we've we've figured out this. We know this from the the mission," says Flook.

The Bermuda Tourism Authority is among those organisations which are hoping to benefit from the new discoveries.

The Authority's Pat Phillip-Fairn says: "I think that's fantastic. It's something that we can claim and and amplify from a business perspective from a tourism perspective from a conservation perspective. It it enables us to show leadership."

Dr. Nick Higgs, deputy director of the Marine Institute at the University of Plymouth, welcomes the new research.

He believes the discovery of new species in the deepest part of the ocean shows we still have a great deal to learn about what lies beneath.

"Really in terms of species discovery we've just picked the low hanging fruit, the ones that are really easy to find and I think this work's sort of backs up that idea, that we've just got the tip of the iceberg of discovering new species in the ocean and that there are many more places that we need to explore in our oceans to discover all the species that are out there and make sure we've accounted for all the variety of life that's in the ocean because they're probably playing some crucial role that we don't yet understand," he says.

According to Higgs it's important that we are proactive in finding out about new species before we irreparable damage is done by industrial exploitation of the deep ocean.

He says: "Whether that be from fishing, or mineral, or oil extraction, our activities are going deeper into the oceans, so it's really important that we start to get a grip on what's living down there."

The Nekton team took samples from depths down to 1500 metres. Since the expedition in 2016, 40,000 specimens and litres of water samples have been analysed.

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