Commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration, and the harvesting of metals have expanded deeper into our oceans. Although the deep sea is by far the largest habitat in the ocean (and in the world), we don’t hear about it very often. A review published last month in Biogeosciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU), aims to change that by summarizing the importance of deep sea habitats and the need for greater protection.
Lead author Andrew Thurber, a researcher at the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, explained in a news release the purpose of the review, which covered over 200 scientific papers: “This is the time to discuss deep-sea stewardship before exploitation is too much farther underway.”
In the case of this review, anything below 200m is considered deep sea, an area that represents 98.5 percent of the volume of our planet that is hospitable to animals.
Thurber and colleagues discuss how, although we can’t see it, the deep sea is vital to our current way of life and in order for it to gain the protection it needs, people need to know what it does for them. The deep sea provides us with much more than we would normally think about, from nurturing fish stocks to containing reserves of precious metals and rare minerals. The deep sea is also a potential source of new antibiotics and anti-cancer chemicals. It also acts as a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to lessen the effects of climate change.
Which is why “we felt we had to do something,” co-author Jeroen Ingels of Plymouth Marine Laboratory explained. “We all felt passionate about placing the deep sea in a relevant context and found that there was little out there aimed at explaining what the deep sea does for us to a broad audience that includes scientists, the non-specialists and ultimately the policy makers. There was a gap to be filled. So we said: ‘Let’s just make this happen’.”
The authors hope that the comprehensive review will contribute to the effective and sustainable management of the deep sea habitat.
To learn more:
- Read the news release: From Finding Nemo to minerals – what riches lie in the deep sea?
- Find the full paper: Ecosystem function and services provided by the deep sea
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