Gareth Hughes

To boldly go where no sub has gone before

by Gareth Hughes

The Kermadecs are a special part of New Zealand deserving of greater protection and new scientific discoveries are adding urgency to the call to create a Kermadecs Ocean Sanctuary.

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Benthic animals observed or captured at the Louisville Seamount Chain and northern Kermadec Arc from 347 to 2,250m depths.

The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) has been undergoing an around-the-world voyage, “to research marine organisms which have evolved to live in unique and extreme environments” (JAMSTEC, 2013). Last month, our National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research of New Zealand (NIWA) joined them in their exploration of the Kermadec Trench as part of the study. This was the first detailed biological investigation of the area and it is incredible what they have found in the depths using one of the world’s most advanced deep diving submarines.

The voyage studied an area where two large seamount chains meet.  One is the Louisville Seamount chain, which consists of over 70 seamounts and stretches over 4,300 km from the northeast of New Zealand to the Tonga-Kermadec trench; it is one of the longest in the world. This was the first time in the world the seafloor at the Louisville Seamount Chain has been observed.

 

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Map of this research area. Red circles indicate seamounts surveyed during this cruise.

 

 

The seamounts in this area were originally formed around the South Pole, and take 70 million years from then to subduct into the Kermadec Trench; the world’s second deepest marine trench. Across from this trench the Tonga-Kermadec Arc is located. This is the longest underwater submarine arc on the planet and consists of a series of volcanically active seamounts.

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A patch of Bathymodiolus mussels found at 337m depth on Hinepuia Seamount, northern Kermadec Arc.

Species that have survived in this unique and dynamic environment have remarkably adapted to the extreme conditions, which include heated and chemically rich fluids released from hydrothermal vents.

Earlier this month the voyage’s progress report was released highlighting what an amazing success it was, discovering new species and even a new hydrothermal vent field. Communities including Bathymodiolus mussels, Symphurus flat fish and more were discovered here.

Observing the Louisville Seamount Chain for the first time also revealed a list of species including sponges, corals, lobsters, crabs, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, starfish, and fish.

Detailed bathymetric charts of three seamounts were also drawn, adding to data and knowledge of the relatively untouched region.

There is a huge wealth of knowledge yet to be discovered, and JAMSTEC and NIWA scientists plan to continue to work together to unravel the biodiversity patterns of evolution in unique environments, including the Kermadecs. Exciting science and discoveries such as these should be celebrated, and I can’t think of a better way than the Kermadecs being declared a marine sanctuary, which would allow for further future discoveries. I am currently promoting a Members’ Bill that would protect the waters surrounding the Kermadecs and create the world’s largest marine reserve. The area is ideal as a unique ‘living laboratory’, as ecosystems and oceans can be studied with little interference from human impacts. Establishing a marine reserve would also maintain the Kermadecs as one of the most unique and bio-diverse regions on the planet.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Gareth Hughes on Wed, November 13th, 2013   

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