Expedition finds record number of eels in the abyssal deep-sea

Cutthroat eels on a seamount summit over 9,800 feet deep
Cutthroat eels on a seamount summit over 9,800 feet deep
Image: Drazen Lab/UH Mānoa; Deep CCZ Exp

Before we start mining for precious metals in the darkness of the deep sea, we might try switching on the light first and observing our surroundings…

In this seemingly isolated abyss, deeper than 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) below sea level, scientists were able to coax a massive swarm of 115 cutthroat eels out of the shadows and into the light, with only a relatively small package of bait.

The footage represents the greatest number of deep sea fish ever recorded at one time in the abyssal ocean, and it was shot right near an international mining hotspot.

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) is a massive expanse of seafloor that runs from Hawaii nearly to Mexico, and it contains some of the rarest and most highly demanded metals and elements on our planet.

Deep seabed mining machines
Deep seabed mining machines
Image: Nautilus Minerals

Over the years, it’s drawn increasing interest from the mining industry, sixteen contracts have already been issued for deep sea mining in more than 1 million square kilometres of this zone – and yet only a tiny portion of deep abyssal habitats have been sampled, explored, or even mapped by scientists.

It’s decisions like this that have some scientists and environmentalists warning of a deep sea “gold rush” that could cause unforeseen damage to ecosystems we know very little about.

Sea cucumber (Amperima sp). on the seabed in the eastern Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone.
Sea cucumber on the seabed – Image: D. J. Amon and C. R. Smith, University of Hawaii

The abyssal plains that blanket the bottom of our oceans represent 70 percent of our planet’s seafloor and are considered the largest ecosystem on Earth.

Recent expeditions among submerged seamounts in the Galapagos and off the coast of Tasmania have revealed an unexpected abundance of life forms, many of which we’ve never seen before.

Pew Infographic on the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone.


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