Marine Blizzards of Death Feed Deep Sea Life
One Fish, Two fish, Red Fish, Shoe fish
Trash on the bottom of the ocean used to be out of sight and out of mind, but a project by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) brought images of deep sea dumps to the surface. The MBARI team observed more than 1,500 pieces of trash on the seafloor from Vancouver Island to the Gulf of California, and as far west as the Hawaiian Islands.
Oceanic life sometimes made the best of this bad situation by colonizing the garbage. For example, this young rockfish is a shoe-in for survival and adaptation at 472 meters (1,548 feet) deep in San Gabriel Canyon, off Southern California.
Seafloor Social Network
Other young rockfish swim around discarded fishing equipment on the floor of Monterey Canyon off the coast of California. Luckily for them, the net isn't working. While some marine life may be able to adapt to human garbage, oceanic trash can trap animals, release toxins, smother plants and have other negative effects.
Boxing Day for Crabs
An octopus coils and crabs crawl over a metal box 2,432 meters (7979 feet) deep in Monterey Canyon.
This shipping container was discovered by MBARI four months after it fell off the merchant vessel Med Taipei during a storm in February of 2004. The container was just one of the estimated 10,000 shipping containers lost overboard every year.
Drums in the Deep
A wanna-be Sebastian the Crab, from Disney's the Little Mermaid, may be planning to turn this drum into a percussion instrument for a calypso band under the sea. The 55-gallon drum lies 2,892 meters (9,488 feet) deep in outer Monterey Canyon.
Even fragile garbage like this old cardboard can become part of the ocean floor ecosystem if it isn't handled with care. However, the crabs may be grouchy that cardboard covers their habitat 3,950 meters deep, offshore of Point Conception, Santa Barbara County, California.
A sea anemone (top) and sea cucumber (right) gained traction on the surface of this tire submerged 868 meters (2,850 feet) beneath the waves in Monterey Canyon.
The ubiquitous Coca Cola logo can be found even 1,200 meters deep in Monterey Canyon.
Classic Fish Pun
This old shoe is in pretty bad shape, but it seems to still have its sole...or is that a flounder (upper left)?
It's in the Water
The slogan of Olympia beer, “It's the water,” can barely be read on this old can. In this case, lots and lots of water.
Someone didn't turn in this soda bottle for a deposit. Instead, deep in the sea, brittle stars creep around the bottle on Davidson Seamount, 60 miles offshore of California and 1,727 meters (5,666 feet) below the ocean surface. "The most frustrating thing for me is that most of the material we saw—glass, metal, paper, plastic—could be recycled," said Kyra Schlining, lead author of the MBARI study published in Deep-Sea Research, in a press release.
The Long Black Veil
A gorgonian coral wears a veil of black plastic 2,115 meters (almost 7,000 feet) deep in Astoria Canyon, off the coast of Oregon. The veil could become a death shroud if the plastic were to completely cover the coral and block coral polyps from feeding.
Dr. Pepper's slogan could be modified to, “Would you like to be a polluter too?” for this can submerged 1,529 meters deep on Axial Seamount, off the Pacific Northwest's coast. The nearby brittle stars probably can't tell the difference between Dr. Pepper detritus and Mr. Pibb pollution.
Occasional, but massive, explosions of sea-surface life provide a feast for creatures on the ocean floor, such as sea cucumbers and urchins. Normally, animals in the depths live a Spartan existence, getting by on crumbs from above. However, oceanographers recently discovered that after surface population booms die, they drift down to give deep sea life a smorgasbord equal to years of the normal food supply.
The daily routine of a sea cucumber, or any other ocean bottom animal, consists of scrounging around for morsels that constantly drift down into the abyss. This detritus is known as “marine snow,” but no human would want to catch these flakes on their tongue. The marine snow consists of decaying plants and animals, feces and other bits of nastiness.
The snow becomes a blizzard occasionally, according to 24 years of observations of the seafloor 4,000 meters deep and 220 kilometers (140 miles) west of the central California coast by Monterrey Bay Aquarium Research Institute oceanographers. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) published their work.
In spring 2012, the muddy seafloor was covered with the silvery bodies of dead salps. (© 2012 MBARI)
For example in 2011 and 2012, a bloom of diatoms on the surface eventually died and sank. Diatoms are a type of phytoplankton, or microscopic algae that create their own food using sunlight like plants.
In addition to diatoms, other marine life can become a deep sea all-you-can-eat buffet. In May 2012, tremendous numbers of salps reproduced on the surface. Salps are soft-bodied animals that drift along ocean currents. Salps feed on phytoplankton, so blooms in marine algae fuel salp population booms. After death, the 2012 salp explosion sank quickly and blanketed the seafloor. So many of these tiny creatures fell that they clogged the devices used by the oceanographers to measure marine snow.
The left-overs from these occasional marine blizzard feasts settled into the sediment to feed bacteria and other organisms as the detritus decayed.
The authors of the PNAS study suggested that climate change may be increasing the frequency of surface life blooms off the U.S. Pacific coast and the subsequent marine blizzards. The diatoms and salps drag carbon into the depths with their bodies. This phenomenon could influence the global carbon cycle.
Top Image: Parastichopus californicus – Giant california sea cucumber (NOAA, Wikimedia Commons)