The Galapagos Islands are famous for several endemic species that evolved to fit the exact niche required to live on rocky islands 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. Now, marine scientists have found 30 new species deep beneath the ocean’s surface around the Galapagos.
Using cutting-edge remote operated vehicles (ROV), expedition crews from the Charles Darwin Foundation, the Galapagos National Park Directorate and the Ocean Exploration Trust explored seamounts as far down as 3,400 meters. Seamounts are extinct underwater mountains entirely covered by seawater. Until now, the Galapagos seamounts were largely unexplored.
The 30 newly identified species include 10 bamboo corals, 11 sponges, four squat lobsters and a brittle star. Scientists also found four new octocorals. Commonly known as sea fans, octocorals are polyp-bearing corals. One of the four new octocorals is the first giant solitary soft coral found in the Tropical Eastern Pacific.
These new research findings come from a 10-day cruise on the 64-meter research vessel the E/V Nautilus. Scientists manipulated arms on the ship’s two ROVs to collect biological and geological specimens. After the expedition, the team sent these samples to deep-sea experts for identification and analysis.
“The many discoveries made on this expedition showcase the importance of deep-sea exploration to developing an understanding of our oceans and the power of telepresence to build a diverse team of experts,” Dr. Nicole Raineault, chief scientist of the Ocean Exploration Trust, said in a press release. “Since we never know what we’re going to find, we utilize land-based scientists who watch the ROV dives from home and communicate directly with the shipboard team in real time, to help determine what is truly new and worthy of further investigation or sampling. Scientists studying the resulting video, data, and specimens make an astonishing number of discoveries, reminding us how little we know about the deep sea.”
The new deep-sea dwelling creatures will never become as familiar to visitors as more visible endemic species, such as the Galapagos penguin, giant tortoises and marine iguanas. Still, these species hint at the many mysteries dwelling in Earth’s oceans.
Images via Ocean Exploration Trust/Nautilus Live and Pexels