First animal officially endangered by deep-sea mining
Scaly-footed snails from active black smoker chimneys hit the IUCN Red List of endangered species.
Found at only three hydrothermal vent fields in the Indian Ocean, the minerals and metals found in this unique snails’ habitat have not gone unnoticed by mining companies.
At over 2,000m depth, these mineral-rich vents were formerly thought to be too technologically difficult and expensive to exploit, but technological advances now make deep-sea prospecting feasible, possibly threatening these habitats and their resident fauna.
While we are only now discovering and describing the diversity of animals found in the deep-sea, the only known homes of the ‘scaly-foot’ are currently under mining exploration licences.
We at the Australian Museum are proud custodians of two paratype specimens of this iconic species that were collected from 2785m. Unique among gastropods, Chrysomallon squamiferum has hundreds of dermal sclerites on its muscular foot. These scales can be covered in iron sulphide that also covers its shell making it the only living multicellular animal known to use iron sulphide as part of its skeleton.
Hydrothermal vent ecosystems are vulnerable. Even exploratory mining could destroy a population of these snails by damaging vents or smothering them with sediment. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) must implement firm guidelines in its regulation of mining activities to ensure that these iconic animals are not only found inhabiting museum collections.
- Chen, C., Linse, K., Copley, J. T., and Rogers, A. D. (2015). The ‘scaly-foot gastropod’: a new genus and species of hydrothermal vent-endemic gastropod (Neomphalina: Peltospiridae) from the Indian Ocean. Journal of Mollucan Studies 1–13. Doi:10.1093/mollus/eyv013
- There is also a video on youtube showing them in their natural habitat, the Longqi Field of Southwest Indian Ridge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6iK19xaYJg&t=60