Scientists explore Indian Ocean’s depths

The first time scientists explored deep in the Indian Ocean, they found a new species of glowing squid. Now researchers who are departing from South Africa on Monday with even better equipment are hoping for similar success.

In 2009, the scientists collected some 7,000 samples including the newly discovered squid, which has light-producing organs that it uses to attract its prey. Researchers aboard the RRS James Cook are taking along special cameras for photographing the ocean floor _ something they didn’t have last time.

“We don’t know much about the deep sea community,” Aurelie Spadone, a sea specialist with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said in a telephone interview Monday before setting out on the Indian Ocean expedition. “It would be very surprising if we don’t find something like a new species.”

Spadone’s trip is focused on learning more about how deep sea fishing is affecting marine life along seamounts _ peaks rising from the floor of the southern Indian Ocean.

Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme, said many of the species that live around seamounts grow and reproduce slowly, so overfishing can severely affect their populations.

“Deep-sea bottom fisheries, including bottom trawling, can damage seamount habitats and negatively impact fish stocks,” Lundin said. “It can also irreversibly damage cold water corals, sponges and other animals.”

Oxford’s Alex Rogers, the expedition’s chief scientist, said the goal was to better understand a unique underwater environment and the threats it faces.

“Based on what we learn by studying five seamounts in the southwest Indian Ridge, we’re hoping to get a better idea of where special habitats, such as cold water coral reefs, occur on seamounts and how we can protect them in the ocean globally,” he said in a statement. “Perhaps we’ll also be lucky enough to discover some new species living in these virtually unknown waters.”

The expedition is being funded by IUCN, the Global Environment Facility and Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council.

Vladimir Laptikhovsky, a researcher from the Falkland Islands who identified the new squid species from the 2009 expedition, said there may be two more he can pin down as he continues to take a closer look at the trove of specimens from that trip. He said the collection was “outstanding” for its diversity.

“Also, because most of the species if not all are poorly known in respect to their biology, the collected materials provide a unique possibility of studying their biology, life cycles and position in the ecosystem,” Laptikhovsky said in email message Monday. He was on another research voyage, off South Georgia.