Ghost-like Octopus Is Under Threat From Deep Sea Mining

Posted: Dec 20 2016, 2:44pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 20 2016, 8:59pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Ghost-like Octopus is Under Threat from Deep Sea Mining
Credit: NOAA
 

The adorable 'Casper' octopod will be at risk if its nesting place is being destroyed by underwater mining.

Earlier this year, a unique, colorless octopus was discovered in the deep waters of Hawaiian Archipelago. 

The ghost-like octopus was sitting on the seafloor at the depth of more than 4,000 meters and researchers knew almost right away that it was a new octopod species, earning the nickname of Casper for its strikingly similar appearance to famous fictional character. 

However, this newly discovered deep-sea octopod is already in peril. According to a new research, these octopods lay their eggs on the dead stems of sponge attached to the seafloor that is often manganese nodules – a lump of rock containing some precious metals. Since many companies are trying to retrieve these metals through underwater mining, this could possibly mean no more eggs and no more creatures like Casper.

“These nodules look a bit like a potato, and are made up of rings of different shells of metal-rich layers. They are interesting to companies as many of the metals contained are 'high-tech' metals, useful in producing mobile phones and other modern computing equipment, and most of the land sources of these metals have already been found and are becoming more expensive to buy,” said researcher Autun Purser from Alfred Wegener Institute's Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany.

“The removal of these nodules may therefore put the lifecycle of these octopods at risk.”

Researchers knew very little about the sea-dwelling creature until recently when a series of cruises were sent out to find these unusual octopuses and to understand how potential mining activities could impact their lives. 

In March, the first ever footage of the ghost octopod was captured and it went viral. Since then, researchers have managed to make 28 additional observations of similar octopuses in different parts of Pacific.

The brooding observations reveal that these animals deposit their eggs on dead sponge on manganese nodules which serve as the only anchor for the sponges in the muddy deep sea. This suggests that without manganese nodules the sponges would not be able to retain their place and without sponges octopuses would not have any place to lay their eggs.

“The brooding observation is important as these sponges only grow in some areas on small, hard nodules or rocky crusts of interest to mining companies because of the metal they contain,” said Purser. 

"As long-lived creatures, recovery will take a long time and may not be possible if all the hard seafloor is removed. This would be a great loss to biodiversity in the deep sea and may also have important knock on events.

Octopods are sizeable creatures, which eat a lot of other smaller creatures, so if the octopods are removed, the other populations will change in difficult to predict ways.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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