Oh, c’mon 2016. “Casper” the ghost-like deep-sea octopod was only discovered earlier this year and already research is showing it’s at risk from deep-sea mining that could irreversibly disrupt its life cycle.
Back in February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) remotely-operated submarine, Okeanos Explorer, stumbled across the pale little creature at about 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) below sea level, off Necker Island in the Hawaiian Archipelago.
The discovery surprised the scientists viewing the footage, unsure of whether the creature was a new species or not and prompting the unexpected but excited response by one of them: “In the immortal words of Taylor Swift, I have never, like ever, seen that one.”
Now, new research suggests that the future of this spectral cephalopod is threatened by the onslaught of deep-sea mining.
Interest in mining the sea floor by commercial companies is on the up as it is a relatively unexplored revenue for harvesting rich metals and minerals, many of which are considered “high-tech” as they are used in the production of mobile phones and modern computing equipment.
Unfortunately, these metals and minerals are found exactly where the octopods lay their eggs and nurture them, possibly for years, on the seabed.
The new study, published in the journal Current Biology, has revealed that these octopods lay their eggs on the dead stalks of deep-sea sponges attached to the sea floor by nodules rich in minerals such as manganese.
The researchers had set out to discover how deep-sea ecosystems might be impacted by mining activities and their results showed that these octopods are dependent on manganese-rich habitats – exactly what the miners are looking for – to breed.
"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 lead author Dr Autun Purser of the Alfred Wegener Institute's Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in a statement. "The removal of these nodules may therefore put the lifecycle of these octopods at risk."
This specific mineral-biota dependency that the researchers have witnessed is a first for any incirrate (without fins) octopod, which, because of their long lives lived at a slow pace, coupled with the fact they lay few eggs and have extremely long reproductive cycles, makes them incredibly vulnerable and at high risk.
"As long-lived creatures, recovery will take a long time and may not be possible if all the hard seafloor is removed," Purser added.
There are growing concerns that, much like “Casper”, there is so much life yet to be discovered on the ocean floor that the future impact of mining on life in the deep will be catastrophic.