Belfast Telegraph

Queen's researchers sound the alert for deep sea snail

The Scaly-foot snail, otherwise known as the sea pangolin
The Scaly-foot snail, otherwise known as the sea pangolin

By Chelsie Kealey

Researchers in Northern Ireland have discovered the first species to be put at risk of extinction due to deep sea mining.

Queen's University published its findings yesterday in the Nature Ecology & Evolution journal, highlighting the risk of extinction for a certain species.

The Scaly-foot snail, otherwise known as the sea pangolin, is the first ever species to be listed as endangered as a result of human mining.

The research has been conducted over the last three years and involved colleagues from the Republic, Britain and Japan.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has placed the Scaly-foot snail on its red list of threatened and endangered species.

These creatures survive at the bottom of the Indian Ocean in deep sea hydrothermal vents - openings in the sea floor.

The sea floor contains more nickel, cobalt and rare Earth metals than all land reserves combined.

Mining corporations argue that deep sea exploration could help diversify the supply of metals.

New technology is currently under way to start mining the sea floor, miles below the surface,

The problem is that this mining targets the same areas that these sea snails call home.

The area is host to some of the world's rarest, strangest, and most vulnerable animals.

By publishing the article, the team is hoping to draw attention to a threat to biodiversity and to make deep sea species more visible.

Additionally, the team hopes to provide objective information to guide conservation actions and international policy.

Dr Julia Sigwart, senior lecturer in Marine Biology at Queen's, said: "The deep sea is home to thousands of species and new species are being discovered all the time.

"These deep sea marine animals like the scaly-foot snail are out of sight, out of mind, but they are still threatened by human activities."

Dr Sigwart continued: "It is crucial we are aware of the immediacy and potential impacts of deep sea mining.

"This red list designation for these species will enable appropriate international protection for the most vulnerable of creatures."

The project has been funded by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

The fund is an endowment which promotes conservation, and is headed by General Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

The Scaly-foot snail is a species which lives at depths of 2,400m to 2,900m, in a total area equivalent in size to two football fields.

There are currently three sites which are being explored for mining under licence, endangering two-thirds of the habitat of the species.

This is of particular concern to conservationists, as the species has little or no ability to recolonise elsewhere.

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