Protecting biodiversity at deep-sea hydrothermal vents

Presentations by Cindy Lee Van Dover, Pat Halpin, Elisabetta Menini (Duke University)
Eva Ramirez-Llodra (Norwegian Institute for Water Research & REV Ocean)
and Jon Yearsley (University College Dublin)


Hydrothermal vent ecosystems in the deep sea are renowned for their strange invertebrates exquisitely adapted for life under extreme conditions of temperature and fluid chemistry. These ecosystems are distributed along mid-ocean ridges throughout the world’s ocean. Hydrothermal vent ecosystems are also sources of metals that are of interest to an emergent deep-sea mining industry, introducing a tension between conservation and exploitation.

This webinar introduces deep-sea mining interests and the rationale for protection of active vent ecosystems. We will review the global status of protection of hydrothermal vent fields (primarily in national waters) as well as spatial concepts for protection of active vent ecosystems on the seabed in international waters of the North Atlantic. Vent species occupy benthic habitats as juveniles and adults, but spend a critical part of their life history in the water column as larvae. We present new information on mid-water circulation patterns above the northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the potential for multiple hydrographic barriers to larval dispersal along the ridge. Before opening the floor for questions and discussion, we introduce inactive and extinct sulfide ecosystems that may be targets of deep-sea miners, emphasizing some important ecological questions that we think need to be answered in advance of industrial mining.