A “carpet of bugs” – new critters revealed in marine census

The 10 year-long, US$650 million census of marine life will wrap up in 2010 but already the project, which plumbs the depths of the world’s oceans in search of new species of marine life, has already added significantly to our knowledge of sea life.

A handful of New Zealand scientists, some involved in the census, are in Valencia this week for the World Conference on Biodiversity, at which a list of nearly 5300 “likely new species” is being scrutinised. Over a hundred species have been confirmed as new. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

  1. A 30-Million-Year-Old Octopus
    Scientists have uncovered the first molecular evidence that a large proportion of deep see octopus species worldwide evolved from a common ancestor some 30 million years ago, and that that ancient species still swims in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica.
  2. A “New Continent” in the Mid-Atlantic
    A survey of area in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, under more than a mile and a half of water, is prompting scientists to describe their findings as a “new continent” – so rife is it with rare or previously unknown species.
  3. Life at the World’s Deepest Hot Vent
    Ashadze, which at more than 2.5-miles deep, is the world’s deepest known active hot vent, is dominated by anemones, polychaete worms and shrimp, scientists have found. They’re finding signs of life even in areas mostly or completely devoid of oxygen.
  4. Black Sea Methane Chimneys
    Methane spewing from the floor of the Black Sea is the energy source for bacteria that grow into “spectacular” chimneys up to 13 feet tall. Not only are they interesting reefs, but understanding them could ultimately help scientists learn to control the flow of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere.
  5. A Brittle Star “City”
    Tens of millions of brittle stars, multilegged deep-water echinoderms, were found living bound together arm tip-to-arm tip on the tip of a seamount near New Zealand that is taller than the tallest city skyscraper. A circumpolar current seems to keep predators away, while providing the network of stars a steady supply of food.

More new creatures from the census of marine life.