Table of Contents
Geological wealth is often accompanied by biological wealth. The three main types of ore deposits on the ocean floor in the Area create a unique habitat where rare, endemic organisms occur and which also have an extremely long lifespan and therefore slow growth. A life span of 2,320 ± 90 years, such as for the black coral, is not exceptional here, which also makes these organisms extra vulnerable.
Associated with the polymetallic nodules in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone are, among others, unique sponges, cnidarians such as corals, molluscs such as barnacles and octopus, echinoderms such as sea cucumbers and brittle stars, larvae of crustaceans and specific roundworms. An approximately four times higher density of organisms is found on and around the nodules compared to areas without polymetallic nodules. Due to the inaccessibility of the area, scientific research on the fauna on these nodules is limited.
Chemotrophic bacteria, which convert inorganic substances into nutrients through chemical reactions, form the basis of the unique ecosystems that occur on the hydrothermal vents of the deep sea. About 85 % of the species associated with the polymetallic sulphides are unique for this habitat. The yeti crab and various deep sea worms are examples of this. Some scientists even believe that life on earth has arisen on these hydrothermal vents.
Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts are also called oases of the abyssal plains because they contain a higher biomass and a diversity of species that live just above the bottom. When oceanic fronts are present in the environment, the plains can form a reinforcing connection between the soil community and the pelagic community, since there is a higher primary production and therefore also more pelagic species. Fish and marine mammals often occur in large groups, which also attracts the orca. The plains can also serve as orientation points and breeding grounds for the animals.
Role of the International Seabed Authority
The International Seabed Authority is charged with:
- the regulation and management of the mineral resources in the Area,
- the prevention, reduction and combat of pollution of the marine environment as a result of exploration and exploitation activities,
- the protection and conservation of the natural resources of the Area, and
- the prevention of damage to the flora and fauna of the marine environment.
Initial environmental status
In order to assess the potential effects of the exploration and exploitation activities, the contractors are obliged to collect data on the initial environmental status.
However, gathering data on the initial state of the biological environment requires very great expertise in taxonomy, since a very large proportion of the species were unknown until now. To this end, three taxonomic workshops have been organized so far:
- Workshop to Standardise Megafaunal Taxonomy for Exploration Contract Areas in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (Senckenberg am Meer, Wilhelmshaven, Germany, 2013)
- Workshop on Taxonomic Methods and Standardization of Macrofauna in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (Uljin-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea, 2014)
- Workshop on Taxonomic Methods and Standardization of Meiofauna in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (University of Ghent, Belgium, 2015)
The first workshop led to the creation of an online Atlas or Abyssal Megafauna, which will be supplemented in the future with the data on the macro- and meiofauna.
The Authority is currently setting up an online database for the data on the initial environmental status. This online database should be operational by the autumn of 2018.
Environmental Management Plans
In 2012, the Authority approved the Environmental Management Plan for the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. This also involved the creation of nine areas of particular environmental importance, designed to protect biodiversity and ecosystem structure. This environmental management plan will be evaluated in the near future.
Currently, the Authority is working on the design of a regional environmental management plan for cobalt-rich crusts in the Pacific Ocean and polymetallic sulphide deposits on mid-ocean ridges.
MIDAS project (2013/2016 - Managing Impacts of Deep-Sea Resource Exploitation)
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