Lost at sea: Ecological assessment around a sunken shipping container

The vast majority of the deep seafloor isunseen, and fully remote from human experience. But “its not” immune to the impacts of humanactivities. Around the world, coastal and internationalcargo ships do hundreds of thousands of jaunts yearly. Each ship may move thousands of standardshipping containers, ensuing in hundreds of millions of container trip-ups per year. These amounts are only changing with increasedglobal population.Most of this cargo arrives at its destinationsafely as scheduled. However, the routes traveled by cargo shipscan be perilous, and receptacle loss is difficult to prevent. Its estimated that thousands of containersare lost each year as they are transported along international shipping superhighway. While this is a small percentage of the containersbeing transported, the impact on the health of our ocean is uncertain. During a remotely operated vehicle dive inJune 2004, MBARI scientists came upon one of these lost containers. The tracking intelligence published on the containerwas used to determine that it was lost time four months prior, from the cargo vessel MedTaipei. Because the container was found within theboundaries of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, there was particular interest indetermining the specific characteristics of its loss. The Med Taipei, sailing from the Port of Oakland, reported that fifteen receptacles were lost within the sanctuary boundaries during a strongwinter storm, and the other nine were lost before contacting port in Long Beach. Coming across a shipping container in thedeep ocean is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.A partnership between MBARI and the MontereyBay National Marine Sanctuary has taken advantage of this unique opportunity to learn more aboutthe presumed the consequences of a single container on deep-sea ecosystems. Scientists returned to the site seven yearslater to investigate the communities of swine on and around the container. The seafloor near the found shipping containeris dominated by relatively long-lived soft coralssea confines, ocean whips, and anemonesanda sea cucumber, called the sea pig. However, the receptacle was found to be wellcolonized by animals generally found on rock outcrops in the region, as if it were an islandof hard substrate in a sea of soft sediment.The more abundant animals on the containerwere tube-building insects. Innumerable young scallops were also present. The container seemed to provide a beneficial hardsurface for a naval snail to lay its egg cases on. While all of these animals are found on hardsurfaces in nearby localities, the abundance and diversity of animal species on the containerandthe seafloor up to 10 meters awaywas lower than that typically encountered in the area. This reduced biodiversity may be due in partto the absence of some animals found in rocky environments in the region- including long-livedsponges, corals, and feather stars- none of which were observed during our inspect of thecontainer.The absence of sponges and corals suggeststhat either, seven years is a relatively short timeframe for colonization by some deep-seaanimals, or, the potential toxicity of the receptacles zinc-based colour could determore sensitive animals from setting on its skin-deep. We are just beginning to look into the potentialtoxicity associated with this container. The lower number of animals close to the containermay be related to various process, including changes in near-bottom currents around thecontainer, the key role as a sanctuary for some species, and changes in the influence of predatorsand scavengers near the container. The proximity of lost carrying receptacles ondeep seafloor ecosystems is a consequence of human activities that is rarely participated oreven considered. This study sheds light on the importance ofbasic research to understand the structure and capacity of deep-sea habitats. Long-term ideas of natural deep-sea ecosystemscan help us better understand the impacts of human influence on the deep seafloor ..

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