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Biodiversity in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone

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Marine Species in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone

Introduction: The Unique Landscape of the CCZ

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) stretches over the abyssal plains of the central Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Mexico, encompassing approximately 4.5 million square kilometers. An intricate mosaic of undersea mountains, ridges, and trenches, the CCZ provides a fascinating and largely uncharted territory for marine biologists and oceanographers alike.

Multifaceted Marine Fauna

Megafauna

The larger animals in this zone, typically greater than 2 cm in size, are termed megafauna.

  • Deep-sea Cucumbers: Species such as Oneirophanta mutabilis and Peniagone azorica dominate the abyssal plains. They play a crucial role in sediment bioturbation, which affects nutrient cycling and sediment structure.
  • Sea Stars: Represented by species like Bathybiaster loripes and Zoroasteridae, these echinoderms are the primary predators of the abyssal plains, feeding on other invertebrates.
  • Sponges and Corals: While they are sparser in the CCZ than in more shallow waters, they are vital as they provide habitat structures for other species (Wedding et al., 2013).
  • Deep-sea Fish: Adapted to life under high pressure and low light.
Sea Cucumber

Macrofauna

Marine species ranging from 0.3 to 2 cm in size.

  • Polychaete Worms: These annelids are the most abundant macrofauna in the CCZ. They are crucial indicators of environmental change and play roles in sediment processing and nutrient cycling. Beyond their importance in nutrient cycling and sediment processing, these worms serve as a primary food source for many megafaunal species.
  • Isopods and Amphipods: Crustaceans like these play critical roles in the decomposition of dead organic material and are prey for larger organisms. Their role as scavengers makes them indispensable for organic matter decomposition. Some species, like the giant deep-sea isopod, are particularly intriguing due to their significant size and unique adaptations.
  • Mollusks: Deep-sea snails and clams have evolved specialized features, such as hemoglobin adaptations, to thrive in the low-oxygen environment.
Polychaete Worm

Microfauna

The smallest of the fauna, typically smaller than 0.3 cm.

  • Microfauna: Single-celled protists with shells. They play a role in carbon cycling, with some species forming symbiotic relationships with photosynthesizing algae (Gooday, 2002). Their carbonate shells not only contribute to the carbon cycle but also form the basis for sediment in many parts of the CCZ.
  • Nematodes: These tiny worms are essential in the decomposition process of organic matter. With the ability to exploit even the most limited nutritional resources, they represent a major component of the deep-sea food web.

Marine Flora and Microorganisms

Whilst not as diverse as fauna, the marine flora in the CCZ plays a fundamental role in the ecosystem. Photosynthetic organisms are scarce due to the depth, but some unique organisms exist.

  • Deep-sea Bacteria: These microorganisms play an essential role in nutrient recycling. Some species can derive energy from minerals, showcasing the unique adaptations to the CCZ environment.
  • Archaea: These microorganisms play a pivotal role in methane cycling and are often found in cold seeps and hydrothermal vents.
  • Fungi: Recent research suggests that deep-sea fungi participate in organic matter decomposition, carbon cycling, and symbiotic relationships.

Conservation and Management

Given its unique biodiversity and the potential threats it faces, there have been calls for effective management and conservation of the CCZ. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) regulates mineral-related activities in the international seabed area, including the CCZ. Efforts are being made to designate specific regions as Areas of Particular Environmental Interest (APEIs) to preserve biodiversity (ISA, 2012).

Conclusion

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone is a treasure trove of biodiversity, hosting a plethora of marine species adapted to its unique environment. There is significant biodeveristy in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, despite the combination of tremendous depth, near-freezine cold, intense pressure, and complete absence of light. That said, these extreme conditions lead to limited nutrients, and consequently populations are sparse and scattered, whilst organisms are small to microscopic. Thorough scientific research and careful environmental impact assessments are needed to ensure that this biodiversity is not damaged by Deep Sea Mining.

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Phillip Gales is a serial entrepreneur who has built tech companies in various heavy industries including Oil & Gas, Construction, Real Estate and Supply Chain Logistics. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife and young family.

Phillip holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, and an MEng in Electrical Engineering from the University of Cambridge, specialising in Machine Intelligence.