Science and Tech

They discover more than 50 new underwater species in one of the most unexplored areas of the world

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In the seamounts of the Salas y Gómez Ridge, a remote and little-explored area that extends from the coast of Chile to Rapa Nui, scientists have observed 160 species that until now were unknown to live in the region. Of those species, at least 50 could be potentially new to science.

The expedition in which these findings were made is the work of an international team of experts, co-led by Ariadna Mechó from the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC), attached to the National Supercomputing Center, in Spain.

This recent expedition, promoted by the Schmidt Ocean Institute of the United States, made it possible to identify deep-sea corals, glass sponges, sea urchins, squid, fish, mollusks, crabs, starfish and other species never before observed by scientists.

Mechó, a researcher in the Climate Variability and Change group of the BSC Department of Earth Sciences, presented the results of the 40-day scientific cruise “Unexplored seamounts of the Salas y Gómez Ridge” and the ongoing negotiations to create a corridor blue in the area at the “AMP Forum of the Ocean Decade Conference: Progress, obstacles and solutions”, organized within the framework of the UN Ocean Decade Conference that was held in Barcelona from April 10 to 12.

“We have found between 50 and 60 potentially new species with the naked eye, a number that will probably increase when we work through all the samples we have in the laboratory. We have also found one of the deepest mesophotic corals in the world, which expands by several hundred kilometers the distribution of this Polynesian fauna. And at depth, we have found fields of sponges and corals, habitats considered vulnerable and in need of protection,” stated Mechó.

The expedition took place from February 24 to April 4 with an international team of 25 scientists from 14 organizations from five nations (Chile, United States, Italy, Spain, Netherlands), among them the first Rapanui marine biologist, Emilia Ra' to Palma Tuki, recent graduate from the Catholic University of Northern Chile. The Rapa Nui Sea Council, or Koro Nui o te Vaikava, supported the expedition, providing the primary permit to work in the area, and collaborated by providing a Koro Nui observer and a local navigation expert to incorporate their perspectives into the expedition. members of the Rapa Nui community.

The information collected during this scientific expedition will provide the basis to inform the management of existing marine protected areas and potentially expand them, especially around the island of Rapa Nui.

The Salas y Gómez Ridge is a 2,900 kilometer long underwater mountain range that includes more than 200 seamounts from the coast of Chile to Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island.

This mountain range is home to one of the most unique and biodiverse seascapes on Earth, with a very high rate of endemism, critical habitats for benthic organisms, essential migratory corridors for highly mobile species and the presence of more than 80 threatened or endangered species. extinction.

Furthermore, the Salas y Gómez ridge has a rich cultural and maritime heritage with connections to indigenous island and continental communities. This remote and underexplored region is home to pristine, unexploited habitats with abundant biodiversity that require international cooperation to protect before they disappear.

A species of fish observed during the expedition. (Photo: ROV SuBastian / Schmidt Ocean Institute. CC BY-NC-SA)

Ocean modeling with supercomputing

The role of the BSC and supercomputing in the campaign is to provide climate modeling data across different scenarios to establish the distribution of species in the area. This will help understand how these species will be affected by future changes, based on each possible scenario.

“But first, we need to better understand the biodiversity and connectivity of the region to know exactly which species are found there and in which mountains, as well as possible changes in faunal communities. Basically, this is a unique exploration in places where almost everything is unexplored,” said Mechó.

The objective is to provide the necessary information to support the designation of the Salas y Gómez Ridge as a marine area of ​​ecological and biological importance (EBSA) by the Convention on Biological Diversity and an ecological and socioeconomic “priority area” for international protection, by the High Seas Treaty (2023).

This cruise is connected to a previous campaign developed between January and February 2024 and focused on the study of the junction between Salas y Gómez and the Nazca Ridge, and the Desventuradas Islands. During the two cruises, more than 100 new species have been discovered in Salas y Gómez and the Nazca Ridge, as well as coral and sponge gardens, highlighting the need to create a blue corridor along both ridges, creating one of the first and largest marine protected areas on the planet. (Source: BSC)

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