Undersea pipelines could attract the good guys, the bad guys, and the bad guys. New search from the National Center for Oceanography in the UK reports that a new oil and gas pipeline off the coast of Angola in Africa is home to abundant and diverse wildlife. However, it also traps huge amounts of waste. Through long-term monitoring of the pipeline, researchers hope to understand the impacts of human activity on remote deep-sea ecosystems and discover previously undescribed species.
The depths of the sea are teeming with impressive biodiversity, from anglerfish with lamp-lit heads to yeti crabs with bacteria-producing arms. However, reaching the sea depths is difficult and expensive. Researchers estimate that more 80% of the ocean is unexploredand 90% of deep sea creatures are not described. The deep sea is also a hot spot for oil and gas exploration, and scientists are increasingly interested in understanding the impacts of deep sea exploration on marine life.
To study deep-sea biodiversity and describe the human impacts of deep-sea exploration, the researchers co-opted seafloor video footage originally filmed by oil and gas company BP. The images, which were originally intended to inspect the pipeline, provided an affordable opportunity to study the surrounding ecosystem.
“We realized as soon as we saw the images that this would allow us to explore how marine life changed after the introduction of a pipeline,” study co-author Andrew Gates said in a statement. Press.
“The video was collected by an ROV – a remotely operated vehicle,” co-author Daniel Jones said in a press release. ROVs are robots that explore the seabed and scientists remotely pilot them from a ship on the surface of the sea. They are safer, simpler and can stay under water for longer than sending a human-occupied submarine.
By analyzing ROV images before and after the pipeline was built, the researchers found that more animals were present after the pipeline was built, especially echinoderms – the group of animals that includes starfish and sea urchins. . However, they also discovered that the pipeline was covered in man-made waste.
“It was surprising to see the huge amount of trash, which consisted of plastic bags, bottles and aluminum cans, as this is a remote area ranging from 700 to 1,400 meters deep,” said Jones said in a press release.
Researchers believe the pipeline traps nutrients for food and provides a hard substrate for shelter, attracting animals. Animals could also be attracted to plastic, which many sea creatures eat and use as habitat.
By continuing to monitor the site, researchers hope to learn how the community is changing and recovering from underwater construction. “Over time, we would expect to see impressive animals, such as deep-sea corals and sponges, growing on the structure. Knowing how long this process takes would be really helpful,” Jones said in a press release.
Additionally, the team hopes to collect specimens from the site and expects to discover new species. “It’s usually not possible to identify the animals in the images to the species level because you can’t see their important distinguishing details,” Gates said in a press release. “We expect that some of the animals living in the area will be new to science, and by making collections we would be able to determine and describe the species found.”