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    HomeWorldA deep-sea robot may have discovered more than 100 new species

    A deep-sea robot may have discovered more than 100 new species

    Dr. Seuss couldn’t dream this stuff up.

    Forests of ancient corals. Clusters of undersea urchins with cactus-like spikes, as if a desert had been inundated. Gardens of glassy sponges, clinging to the slopes of an underwater mountain range soaring up thousands of feet from the seafloor.

    Deep-sea explorers searching below the waves off the coast of Chile may have found more than 100 species completely new to science.

    More than 100 potentially new species were found off the Chilean coast by deep-sea researchers in January and February 2024. (Video: Schmidt Ocean Institute)

    The potential discovery of the new creatures across 10 seamounts in the southeast Pacific does more than just add to the depth of understanding of the sheer diversity of ocean life. For the researchers, it shows how ocean protections put in place by the Chilean government are working to bolster biodiversity, an encouraging sign for other countries looking to safeguard their marine waters.

    “Every single seamount had a different type of ecosystem on it,” said Hannah Nolan, an expedition and community outreach specialist for the Schmidt Ocean Institute, an oceanographic research nonprofit that undertook the expedition.

    14,000 feet under the sea

    Deploying an underwater robot that can descend more than 14,000 feet, the research team worked from Jan. 8 to Feb. 11 to bring specimens from the depths to the surface. The southeast Pacific, a geologically active region, is littered with hydrothermal vents that help sustain a wide array of life.

    Only after analyzing the animals’ body structure and genes at a lab on land will the scientists be able to determine whether these creatures are truly new species.

    The trip along the seamounts that stretch from the coast of South America to Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, was a jackpot for sea sponges, said Javier Sellanes, a scientist at the Universidad Católica del Norte who led the research. “Only two species were previously properly reported for the area and now we found about 40 different species,” he said.

    Among the potentially new-to-science marine life are ghostly white sponges and lobsters with beady eyes and barbed legs, in addition to corals, urchins, sea stars and sea lilies.

    Video recorded in January and February 2024 of seamounts off the coast of Chile shows corals, urchins, sea stars and sea lilies that are likely new to science. (Video: Schmidt Ocean Institute)

    The team explored two marine parks — Juan Fernández and Nazca-Desventuradas — where Chile has restricted fishing. But they also searched areas outside the country’s national waters — a part of the ocean called the high seas where no one government has jurisdiction.

    Ocean advocates want to safeguard those submarine mountains in international waters from overfishing and deep-sea mining by establishing a new marine protected area under a United Nations treaty signed last year. Around the world, nations are aiming to protect 30 percent of the planet’s oceans by the end of the decade to stem the loss of Earth’s remaining wild plants and animals to extinction.

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