Marine expedition finds new species
STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Norwegian scientists who explored the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean said Thursday their findings — including what appear to be new species of fish and squid — could be used to protect marine ecosystems worldwide.
Researchers on the MAR-ECO expedition, which spent two months mapping the undersea ecosystem around the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the world's largest mountain range, said they found an unexpected diversity of marine life near the sea bottom.
"Overall, we've been struck by the diversity of life," said Odd Aksel Bergstad, the expedition's leader and a senior scientist at the Institute of Marine Research in Norway.
The sea bottom had never before been studied in such detail, and the findings of the expedition significantly have significantly advanced deep-sea biology, he said. "The mid-ocean ridges are found in all oceans, but they've been more or less neglected for lack of appropriate technology."
The Norwegian-led MAR-ECO — using highly advanced echo-sounders, robotic deep-sea vehicles and trawl nets — brought back more than 350 species of fish and squid.
At least five, including a deep-sea angler fish and two unusual squids, seem to be new species, Bergstad told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Bergen, Norway, where the research ship G.O. Sars docked after its voyage.
Many other species had never before been found near the ridge, which stretches more than 3,728 miles between Iceland and the Azores, off Africa's west coast.
The cruise also brought back an unknown number of planktonic species, many of which were probably new to science as well, said Olav Rune Godoe, an IMR researcher who participated in the expedition.
While finding new species is exciting, the researchers said, the main purpose of the expedition was to give scientists a better understanding of the most remote and unexplored environment on the planet.
"The deep waters are the last to be affected by humans," Godoe said. "Studying an environment that is entirely unspoiled by man has the potential of elevating our (understanding) of all ecosystems."
The MAR-ECO expedition is a pilot project of the 10-year, $1 billion Census of Marine Life project, an international research endeavor that aims to map out the deep sea ecosystems, and explain how they change over time.
More than 300 scientists from 53 countries are involved in the census project.