Corals and sponges in rocky deep-sea environments are foundation species postulated to enhance local diversity by increasing biogenic habitat heterogeneity and enriching local carbon cycling. These key groups are highly vulnerable to disturbances (e.g., trawling, mining, and pollution) and are threatened by expansive changes in ocean conditions linked to climate change (acidification, warming, and deoxygenation). Once damaged by trawling or other disturbances, recolonization and regrowth may require centuries or longer, highlighting the need for stewardship of these deep-sea coral and sponge communities (DSCSCs). To this end, the sustainability of DSCSCs may be enhanced not only by protecting existing communities, but also repopulating disturbed areas using active restoration methods. Here, we report one of the first studies to explore methods to restore deep-sea coral populations by translocating coral fragments of multiple coral species. Branches of deep-sea corals were collected by ROV from 800 to 1300 m depth off central California and propagated into multiple fragments once at the surface. These fragments were then attached to “coral pots” using two different methods and placed in the same habitat to assess their survivorship (n = 113 total fragments, n = 7 taxa, n = 7 deployment groups). Mean survivorship for all translocated coral fragments observed within the first 365 days was ∼52%, with the highest mortality occurring in the first 3 months. In addition to an initial temporal sensitivity, survival of coral fragments varied by attachment method and among species. All coral fragments attached to coral pots using zip ties died, while those attached by cement resulted in differential survivorship over time. The latter method resulted in 80–100% fragment survivorship after 1 year for Corallium sp., Lillipathes sp., and Swiftia kofoidi, 12–50% for the bamboo corals Keratoisissp. and Isidella tentaculum, and 0–50% for the bubblegum corals Paragorgia arborea and Sibogagorgia cauliflora. These initial results indicate differences in sensitivities to transplanting methods among coral species, but also suggest that repopulation efforts may accelerate the recovery of disturbed DSCSCs.
Deep-sea ecosystems and hydrothermal vents
Ingestion of microplastics (MPs) has been documented in several marine organisms, but their occurrence in deep-sea species remains almost unknown. In this study, MPs were investigated in two economically and ecologically key crustaceans of the Mediterranean Sea, the Norwegian lobster Nephrops norvegicus and the shrimp Aristeus antennatus. Both the species were collected from 14 sites around Sardinia Island, at depths comprised between 270 and 660 m. A total of 89 and 63 stomachs were analysed for N. norvegicus and A. antennatus respectively, and more than 2,000 MPs-like particles were extracted and sorted for identification and characterization by μFT-IR. In N. norvegicus, 83% of the specimens contained MPs, with an average abundance of 5.5 ± 0.8 MPs individual−1, while A. antennatus showed a lower frequency of ingestion (67%) and a lower mean number of MPs (1.66 ± 0.1 MPs individual−1). Composition and size of particles differed significantly between the two species. The non-selective feeding strategy of N. norvegicus could explain the 3–5 folds higher numbers of MPs in its stomach, which were mostly composed of films and fragments derived by polyethylene and polypropylene single-use plastic items. Contrarily, most MPs in the stomachs of A. antennatus were polyester filaments. The MPs abundance observed in N. norvegicus is among the highest detected in Mediterranean species considering both fish and invertebrates species, and provides novel insights on MPs bioavailability in deep-sea habitats. The overall results suggest that both N. norvegicus and A. antennatus, easily available in common fishery markets, could be valuable bioindicators and flagship species for plastic contamination in the deep-sea.
Deep-sea ecosystems are the most extensive on Earth and provide key goods and services for human well-being, such as genetic resources and climate regulation. Maintaining the sustainable functioning of the global biosphere therefore requires protection of deep-sea ecosystems, particularly because these ecosystems face major changes related to human and climate-induced impacts. Although we lack data to evaluate the spatial scale of degraded deep-sea habitats, numerous studies document human impacts on the whole ocean. However, protection alone can be insufficient to reverse habitat degradation in the deep sea. Scientifically, deep-sea restoration actions may be feasible, but whether such actions will achieve sustainability goals when applied at broad spatial scales of impact remain questionable. Successful application of most restoration efforts will first require a deeper understanding of biodiversity and functioning of deep-sea ecosystems, and better knowledge of ecosystem resilience and recovery rates of deep-sea fauna. In addition to limited data availability, expensive technologies (with estimated costs up to millions of dollars ha−1) represent a major obstacle to large-scale deep-sea restoration, but international cooperation (like a stronger collaboration between industry and scientists belonging to the academia) could significantly reduce this operational cost. Future deep-sea ecosystem restoration could offer an important business opportunity for technological development and application and an investment in natural capital for a new and competitive blue-growth sector.
Cold water coral and sponge communities (CWCS) are important indicators of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) and are used to delineate areas for marine conservation and fisheries management. Although the Northeast Pacific region of Canada (NEPC) is notable for having unique CWCS assemblages and is the location of >80% of Canadian seamounts, the extent of potential CWCS-defined VMEs in this region is unknown. Here, we used a diverse set of environmental data layers (n=30) representing a range of bathymetric derivatives, physicochemical variables, and water column properties to assess the primary factors influencing the niche separation and potential distributions of six habitat-forming groups of CWCS in the NEPC (sponge classes: Hexactinellida, Demospongiae; coral orders: Alcyonacea, Scleractinia, Antipatharia, Pennatulacea). The primary environmental gradients that influence niche separation among CWCS are driven by total alkalinity, dissolved inorganic carbon, and dissolved oxygen. Significant niche separation among groups indicates CWCS to be primarily specialists occurring in rare habitat conditions in the NEPC. Species distribution models (SDMs) developed for each CWCS group shared severely low dissolved oxygen levels ([O2] < 0.5 ml L−1) as a top predictor for habitat suitability in the NEPC. Niche separation is further emphasized by differences in the model-predicted areas of suitable habitat among CWCS groups. Although niches varied among taxa, the general areas of high habitat suitability for multiple CWCS groups in the NEPC occurred within the 500–1400 m bottom depth range which is strongly associated with the extensive oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) characterizing this region. As a result, the largest continuous area of potential CWCS habitat occurred along the continental slope with smaller, isolated patches also occurring at several offshore seamounts that have summits that extend into OMZ depths. Our results provide insight into the factors that influence the distributions of some of the most important habitat-forming taxa in the deep ocean and create an empirical foundation for supporting cold-water coral and sponge conservation in the NEPC.
The Philippines is often highlighted as the global epicenter of marine biodiversity, yet surveys of reef-associated fishes in this region rarely extend beyond shallow habitats. Here, we improve the understanding of fish species diversity and distribution patterns in the Philippines by analyzing data from mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs; 30–150 m depth) obtained via mixed-gas rebreather diving and baited remote underwater video surveys. A total of 277 fish species from 50 families was documented, which includes thirteen newly discovered and undescribed species. There were 27 new records for the Philippines and 110 depth range extensions, indicating that many reef fishes have a broader geographic distribution and greater depth limits than previously reported. High taxonomic beta-diversity, mainly associated with family and genus turnover with depth, and significant effects of traits such as species body size, mobility and geographic range with maximum recorded depth, were observed. These results suggest that MCEs are characterized by unique assemblages with distinct ecological and biogeographic traits. A high proportion (60.5%) of the fish species are targeted by fishing, suggesting that Philippine MCEs are as vulnerable to overfishing as shallow reefs. Our findings support calls to expand conservation efforts beyond shallow reefs and draw attention to the need to explicitly include deep reefs in marine protected areas to help preserve the unique biodiversity of MCEs in the Philippines.
The deep ocean below 200 m water depth is the least observed, but largest habitat on our planet by volume and area. Over 150 years of exploration has revealed that this dynamic system provides critical climate regulation, houses a wealth of energy, mineral, and biological resources, and represents a vast repository of biological diversity. A long history of deep-ocean exploration and observation led to the initial concept for the Deep-Ocean Observing Strategy (DOOS), under the auspices of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). Here we discuss the scientific need for globally integrated deep-ocean observing, its status, and the key scientific questions and societal mandates driving observing requirements over the next decade. We consider the Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs) needed to address deep-ocean challenges within the physical, biogeochemical, and biological/ecosystem sciences according to the Framework for Ocean Observing (FOO), and map these onto scientific questions. Opportunities for new and expanded synergies among deep-ocean stakeholders are discussed, including academic-industry partnerships with the oil and gas, mining, cable and fishing industries, the ocean exploration and mapping community, and biodiversity conservation initiatives. Future deep-ocean observing will benefit from the greater integration across traditional disciplines and sectors, achieved through demonstration projects and facilitated reuse and repurposing of existing deep-sea data efforts. We highlight examples of existing and emerging deep-sea methods and technologies, noting key challenges associated with data volume, preservation, standardization, and accessibility. Emerging technologies relevant to deep-ocean sustainability and the blue economy include novel genomics approaches, imaging technologies, and ultra-deep hydrographic measurements. Capacity building will be necessary to integrate capabilities into programs and projects at a global scale. Progress can be facilitated by Open Science and Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable (FAIR) data principles and converge on agreed to data standards, practices, vocabularies, and registries. We envision expansion of the deep-ocean observing community to embrace the participation of academia, industry, NGOs, national governments, international governmental organizations, and the public at large in order to unlock critical knowledge contained in the deep ocean over coming decades, and to realize the mutual benefits of thoughtful deep-ocean observing for all elements of a sustainable ocean.
The natural capital of the vast deep ocean is significant yet not well quantified. The ecosystem services provided by the deep sea provide a wide range of benefits to humanity. Proposed deep-sea economic activities such as fishing, deep-sea mining and bioprospecting therefore need to be assessed in this context. In addition to quantifying the economic benefits and costs of such activities on their own, their potential impact on the deep-sea natural capital also needs to be considered.
This article describes such a natural capital approach, identifies relevant ecosystem services and looks at how a range of proposed commercial activities could be assessed in this context. It suggests a methodology for such analysis and suggests an approach to a sustainable blue deep-sea economy that is consistent with environmental precaution. It will close with suggestions of how potential risks can best be handled.
The article aims to show that modern environmental economics based on natural capital can provide a useful framework for deciding future deep-sea efforts.
Climate and environmental conditions are determinant for coral distribution and their very existence. When changes in such conditions occur, their effects on distribution can be predicted through species distribution models, anticipating suitable habitats for the subsistence of species. Mussismilia harttii is one of the most endangered Brazilian endemic reef-building corals, and in increasing risk of extinction. Herein, species distribution models were used to determine the present and future potential habitats for M. harttii. Estimations were made through the maximum entropy approach, predicting suitable habitat losses and gains by the end of the 21st century. For this purpose, species records published in the last 20 years and current and future environmental variables were correlated. The best models were chosen according to the Akaike information criterion (AIC) and evaluated through the partial ROC (AUCratio), a new approach which uses independent occurrence data. Both approaches showed that the models performed satisfactorily in predicting potential habitat areas for the species. Future projections were made using the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios for 2100, with different levels of greenhouse gas emission. Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) were used to model the Future Potential Habitat (FPH) of M. harttii in two different scenarios: stabilization of emissions (RCP 4.5) and increase of emissions (RCP 8.5). According to the results, shallow waters to the south of the study area concentrate most of the current potential habitats for the species. However, in future scenarios, there was a loss of suitable areas in relation to the Current Potential Habitat (RCP 4.5 46% and RCP 8.5 59%), whereas there is a southward shift of the suitable areas. In all scenarios of FPH, the temperature was the variable with the greatest contribution to the models (> 35%), followed by the current velocity (> 33%) and bathymetry (>29%). In contrast, there is an increase of deep (50–75 m) suitable areas FPH scenarios, mainly in the southern portion of its distribution, at Abrolhos Bank (off Espirito Santo State). These deeper sites might serve as refugia for the species in global warming scenarios. Coral communities at such depths would be less susceptible to impacts of climate change on temperature and salinity. However, the deep sea is not free from human impacts and measures to protect deeper ecosystems should be prioritized in environmental policies for Brazilian marine conservation, especially the Abrolhos Bank, due to its importance for M. harttii.
The amphipod Hirondellea gigas inhabits the deepest regions of the oceans in extreme high-pressure conditions. However, the mechanisms by which this amphipod adapts to its high-pressure environment remain unknown. In this study, we investigated the elemental content of the exoskeleton of H. gigas specimens captured from the deepest points of the Mariana Trench. The H. gigas exoskeleton contained aluminum, as well as a major amount of calcium carbonate. Unlike other (accumulated) metals, aluminum was distributed on the surface of the exoskeleton. To investigate how H. gigas obtains aluminum, we conducted a metabolome analysis and found that gluconic acid/gluconolactone was capable of extracting metals from the sediment under the habitat conditions of H. gigas. The extracted aluminum ions are transformed into the gel state of aluminum hydroxide in alkaline seawater, and this gel covers the body to protect the amphipod. This aluminum gel is a good material for adaptation to such high-pressure environments.