While Elon Musk and other billionaires continue to shoot billions of dollars into the unreachable, soul-crushing emptiness of deep space, here on Earth, our oceans continue to be enduring sources of mystery and wonder. According to NOAA estimates, we’ve only explored around 5% of the Earth’s oceans. Who knows what could be down there? The ruins of long lost civilizations? You bet. Forgotten treasures of unwritten conquests? Sure. Lost airlines? Probably. Now, a whole ecosystem of unknown species of sea creatures can be added to that list thanks to a team of marine biologists from the Smithsonian Institute. Is this one more sign that we should pay more attention to inner space as opposed to outer space?
In a paper published this week in Scientific Reports, Smithsonian scientists have identified an entirely new zone of the ocean they’re calling the “Rariphotic” zone based on how rare the animals found there are. The observations were made from a manned submarine exploring a deep reef system in the Southern Caribbean near Curaçao. The Raritrophic zone is currently thought to be found between 130 and 309 meters (about 400 to 1,000 feet) in deep reef systems. At least one in five fish the researchers encountered in this new zone was a species completely unknown to science.
This new study was led by Carole Baldwin, curator of fishes at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and director of the Smithsonian’s Deep Reef Observation Project. In a press release, Baldwin says that these new ecosystems represent a chance for scientists to uncover some of the more easily reachable unexplored zones right in our own aquatic backyard:
Tropical deep reefs are not barren landscapes on the deep ocean floor: they are highly diverse ecosystems that warrant further study. Yet only a fraction of that space has been explored. We hope that by naming the deep-reef rariphotic zone, we’ll draw attention to the need to continue to explore deep reefs.
Scientists feel that this newly defined zone could play an increasingly important role in the near future as surface waters heat up due to climate change, forcing fish and other creatures native to shallower waters to migrate down to cooler, deeper waters.
Even though space exploration might generate more headlines these days, I’ve always been most fascinated with the uncharted mysteries of the world’s seas. We’ve only in the last century been able to truly begin exploring what lies beneath the sea and, advances in submersibles both manned and unmanned are only going to keep make exploration easier and more available to all. Forget discovering intelligence life in space – I want to find a race of forgotten humans living in cities carved from the very rock of the Earth deep below the ocean floor.