Ever wondered why a sense of calmness surrounds us when in midst of large water bodies, especially oceans? The deepness of the ocean conjures up images of stillness in our brain and one wonders what the deep water really holds. Truth be told, an enthralling ecosystem of around 2 million marine species thrive in these cold conditions.
With about 97% of the world’s water in the ocean, the deep ocean (lowest layers of the ocean at depth below 656 feet) is key to keeping our planet healthy. The deep waters detoxify our Earth by removing heat and carbon di-oxide from the air, dissolving them in its waters and releasing clean air back.
Land animals have hiding places such as trees or bushes or bury themselves underground when under attack from predators. But the ocean is very different with no place to hide. Several animals produce bioluminescence (chemical light) from their bellies that exactly matches the color and intensity of sunlight above them. Among the most iconic are deep-sea fishes like the anglerfish, whose females have glowing flesh that attracts prey. Deep-sea shrimps spew bioluminescence from its mouth like a fire-breathing dragon and then there’s the world’s smallest 6-inch velvet-belly lantern shark, with light-producing organs to camouflage against predators.
The study of bioluminescence has applications in biotechnology with several scientific breakthroughs in commercial areas such as detecting proteins, antibodies to COVID-19 in blood samples, vaccine research and monitoring water systems to ensure high quality drinking water.
Below are a few pictures of eye-catching bio-luminescent creatures that light up the deep ocean:
Effects of trawling, over-fishing, and ocean-warming:
In the last 50 years, our eating habits have led to oceans being stripped of its fish, shellfish, and many other forms of marine life. Trawling nets across the ocean floor has turned upside down spectacular undersea gardens full of living beings that won’t sustain life again for hundreds of years. Deep-sea mining for oil and gas extraction has been occurring for over a decade with sea-bed mineral deposits being the latest temptation. Rising ocean temperatures and decreased oxygen concentrations, unregulated ocean dumping and pollution from plastics and industrial chemicals have impacted deep-ocean ecosystems wiping out several species from our Earth.
Internal cooperation combined with scientific research plus innovative technologies are the need of the hour to support the United Nations ‘Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development’ from 2021-2030. Protecting the oceans and reversing its declining health and investing in marine science is required for a clean, resilient, and safe ocean that inspires society to understand and value the ocean.
A few notable journeys to bottom of the ocean have been the “Deepsea challenger” funded by James Cameron that explored the Mariana trench in 2012 and the ‘Five Deeps expedition’ in 2018 to the deepest point of the Earth’s top five oceans. It has revealed incredible data, pictures and facts about marine life including bio-luminescent creatures deep down.
India’s deep ocean mission supporting its blue economy has been kicked off this year with a focus on sustainable conservation of deep-sea bio-resources and manned submersibles that will carry three people to the depth of the ocean equipped with a suite of scientific sensors and tools. But these exploration studies are also planned to make way for commercial exploitation of the ocean floor in the central Indian Ocean, albeit regulated by the UN laws of sea treaty.
These amazing natural wonders are fast disappearing as we strip the oceans and seas of all its bounty, and we need to invest in sustainable solutions such as marine protected areas where human activities are kept minimal. As the world’s most travelled naturalist Sir David Attenborough says ” The ocean’s power of regeneration is remarkable – if we just offer it the chance”.
Deep water bioluminescent creatures throw open some simple truths: In the vast darkness of the oceans, these tiny creatures make life brilliantly observable and helps view life as never before. Exploring the deep oceans fuels our imagination, triggers deep curiosity, helps appreciate the evolution of nature and makes us optimistic environmentalists.