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Dozens of deep-sea species discovered off the coast of Chile

An international team of researchers, co-led by Ariadna Mechó from the Barcelona Supercomputing Center – Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS), has recently made an exciting discovery off the coast of Chile. During an expedition to the Salas y Gómez Ridge – a less explored stretch of underwater mountains extending from Chile to Rapa Nui – the experts observed 160 deep-sea species that were not known to inhabit the region. 

Among the deep-sea species that were spotted, the researchers suspect that at least 50 might be entirely new to science.

The expedition, supported by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, uncovered a variety of deep-sea organisms including corals, glass sponges, sea urchins, squids, fishes, molluscs, crabs, sea stars, and squat lobsters.

Vulnerable deep-sea species

Mechó, part of the Climate Variability and Change group at the BSC’s Earth Sciences Department, shared these findings at the Ocean Decade MPA Forum: Progress, Obstacles and Solutions, an event linked to the UN Ocean Decade Conference in Barcelona from April 10-12, 2024. 

“The main results of this campaign are that we have found between 50 and 60 potentially new species at first sight, a number that is likely to increase as we have many samples to work on in the laboratory. We also found one of the deepest mesophotic corals in the world, extending the distribution of this Polynesian fauna by several hundred kilometers. And at depth, we have found fields of sponges and corals, habitats that are considered vulnerable and in need of protection,” Mechó said.

Rapa Nui Sea Council

The expedition team consisted of 25 scientists from 14 organizations across five countries (Chile, United States, Italy, Spain, Netherlands) and took place from February 24 to April 4. Notably, the team included Emilia Ra’a Palma Tuki, the first Rapa Nui marine biologist, a recent graduate from Universidad Católica del Norte in Chile. 

The Rapa Nui Sea Council, or Koro Nui o te Vaikava, provided critical support and permits for the expedition, enhancing the project with local knowledge and a representative from the Rapa Nui community.

The discoveries made during this research will contribute significantly to the management and potential expansion of marine protected areas, particularly around Rapa Nui, one of the most unexplored regions on the planet. 

Critical habitat for deep-sea species 

The Salas y Gómez Ridge, spanning 2,900 kilometers and hosting over 200 seamounts, is a biodiversity hotspot known for its unique ecosystems and high rate of endemism. It serves as a critical habitat for benthic organisms and an important migration corridor for various species, including over 80 that are threatened or endangered.

The region’s rich cultural and maritime heritage, significant to both indigenous islanders and global communities, underscores the urgent need for international cooperation to protect these pristine environments from exploitation and the loss of biodiversity.

Exploring uncharted territory 

In addition to field research, the BSC’s role involves leveraging supercomputing to model climate scenarios that help predict the distribution of key species and understand how future changes might impact them. 

“But first, we need to better understand the biodiversity and connectivity of the region to know which keystone species are found there and on which mountains exactly, as well as potential faunal breaks (where communities change or stop connecting with each other). Basically, it is a unique exploration in places where practically everything is unexplored,” Mechó explained.

Protecting deep-sea species in the high seas

This research is crucial for advocating the designation of the Salas y Gomez Ridge as an ecologically and biologically significant marine area (EBSA) under the Convention on Biological Diversity, and as a “priority area” for international protection under the 2023 High Seas Treaty.

Further emphasizing the importance of this region, a previous campaign between January and February 2024 focused on the intersection of the Salas y Gomez and Nazca Ridges and the Desventuradas Islands.

Across both expeditions, more than 100 new deep-sea species were discovered, highlighting the necessity for a “blue corridor” that would establish one of the world’s first high-seas marine protected areas.

Image Credit: ROV SuBastian / Schmidt Ocean Institute


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