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First-ever study describes deep-sea animal communities around a sunken shipping container
Date:5/8/2014

attracting animals such as tubeworms, scallops, snails, and tunicates. Such animals require hard surfaces on which to attach, and were not found on the muddy seafloor around the container. Surprisingly, several types of animals found on nearby rocky reefs, such as sponges, soft corals, and crinoids (a distant relative of sea stars), had not colonized the surface of the container.

The researchers speculate that some of these slow-growing animals might not have had enough time to colonize the container's surface. Another possible explanation is that some types of animals may be sensitive to the potentially toxic effects of corrosion-resistant coatings used on shipping containers. The team conducted a follow-up ROV dive in December 2013 to study possible effects of the container's coating. The samples from this dive are still being analyzed.

The researchers also discovered differences in the types of animals living on the muddy seafloor within about 10 meters (32 feet) of the container. Within this zone, deep-sea snails in the genus Neptunea and some types of crabs and fish, including deep-sea rockfish, were more abundant than in surrounding areas, while sea pens and other filter feeders were less abundant.

Overall, the researchers suggest that the container caused shifts in animal communities through a variety of processes. Its physical presence provided: 1) a hard surface that sessile (attached) animals colonized; 2) a physical obstacle that affected local bottom currents, 3) a high spot on the seafloor that attracted predators, and 4) a possible source of toxic materials.

The researchers also believe the container is having indirect ecological impacts, some of which may take years or decades to develop. For example, higher numbers of seafloor predators near the container might explain some of the changes in the types of other animals found on the nearby seafloor. Such indirect ecological effects might also explain why the diversi
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Contact: Kim Fulton-Bennett
kfb@mbari.org
831-775-1835
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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