Diversity brought to light during a single deep-sea sampling campaign – the recent AleutBio expedition to the Aleutian Trench on board RV Sonne (species not shown to scale).  

Better protecting the deep sea and its species! – Senckenberg Policy Brief

The eyes of the world are on Montreal, where participants at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15 for short – 07.-19.12.2022) reached a new agreement overnight to stop global biodiversity loss. According to the World Biodiversity Council IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), an estimated one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction worldwide. The scale of species extinction has never been so drastic in human history, and at the same time it is a calculation with many unknowns. After all, very little is known about some of Earth’s environments, and one of the biggest ‘blank spots on the map’ inevitably involves the deep sea. A few numbers to illustrate; The deep sea includes all sea areas from a depth of 200 meters down to the Mariana Trench, at almost 11,000 meters the deepest point on earth; the deep sea covers more than half of the earth’s surface or 95 percent of the total volume of the oceans; it is estimated that only 1 percent of the deep sea has been scientifically studied. Accordingly, estimates of the number of species found in the deep sea vary widely, ranging from half a million to 10 million species. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, and conservative calculations put the number at around 2 million species for the entire ocean. An amazing variety of species – and that is above all against the background that we only know about 10 % of it, or in other words, 90 % of the marine species are unknown and still have no name.

The problem now is threefold:

  1. Even remote places like the deep sea are subject to increasing human impacts, ranging from pollution from plastic waste, chemicals and noise, to resource depletion, such as fishing or planned deep-sea mining;
  2. to date, the deep sea, especially those in international waters, has been inadequately protected; and
  3. we can only protect what we know, and deep-sea unknown species have no lobby (= there are no Panda bears on the deep sea).

Just in time for the start of COP15 on December 7th, we released a joint position paper (including, in addition to Senckenberg, colleagues from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), the Portuguese University of Aveiro, the National Oceanography Center in Southampton and the University of Plymouth in Great Britain, the US Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., and also some AleutBios; link to the policy brief: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7373440). In particular, we called for prioritizing the protection of deep-sea ecosystems and their species, and promoting the discovery and characterization of new species.

And while we hopefully look from Montreal to the whole world that the right steps are being taken to preserve our biodiversity, i.e. our livelihood, we are taking concrete action with the description of the first of probably dozens of new isopod species from the deep sea of the Aleutian Trench.

Confident at first, we look forward to the developments in the New Year – always keeping an eye on the deep sea.

Wishing you all the best for 2023!
Stefanie & Angelika