PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — The University of the West Indies’ Dr Judith Gobin was part of a team of international scientists who made a major discovery located some 6,000ft under the sea, in the ‘debris avalanche’ deposit of the Grenada Basin, west of Kick’em Jenny volcano.
The discovery of what appears to be ‘cold seeps’ containing giant mussels, tube worms and other organisms thriving in the environment, was made on Thursday, November 14, 2013. The scientists who are from the Ocean Exploration Trust were on a deep sea exploration of the Kick’em Jenny volcano on board the Exploration Vessel (EV) Nautilus.
The EV Nautilus is a 64-meter research vessel operated by Dr Robert Ballard and his Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) team. Dr Ballard is internationally known for finding the wreck of the Titanic and the German military ship, Bismarck. The Nautilus carries with it two remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) named Hercules and Argus, which explore the seafloor and can be viewed in real-time online.
At the time of the findings, the scientists were concentrating on the volcanology and seismic activity at the Kick’em Jenny site, where they also made some interesting discoveries, including areas of larval flows and bacterial cover. However, the discovery of these large animals living in the cold seeps was unexpected. A cold seep is an area in the ocean floor where hydrogen sulphide, methane and other hydrocarbon fluid seepage exists.
According to Gobin, “In discovering them, scientists are always very enthusiastic to determine whether there are new species living there and analyse how these animals are surviving in these conditions.”
The mussels found in the cold seeps were impressively large (approx. 33cm) and even more interestingly, each of the eight specimens collected also had a large scale worm (polychaete) living inside it.
Gobin added, “These mussels may be the largest ever found. Previous discovery papers described similar ones in seeps but they were smaller.”
Gobin stated, “This discovery of deep sea fauna associated with the Kick’em Jenny and its seeps and vents have not been documented before. With the new information and discoveries, we (scientists) can write our own chapter on ‘the deep sea fauna of the Caribbean’. This will bring more scientific researchers to Grenada and expose the island even further.”
Gobin, who is a lecturer of marine ecology/coastal ecosystems management in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine, was invited to join the exploration in her capacity as a marine biologist and stayed on board for six days. She was the first of the crew to recognise and extract the marine worm from one of the very large mussels.
She stated, “This is true-cutting edge research and as a UWI marine scientist, I am extremely pleased to be part of it! All samples collected from the exploration will be analysed and dated by the Ocean Exploration Team. I will be continuing collaborations with the various scientists as well as the communications specialists with the aim of extending and improving our scientific progress in our territory, that is, with their assistance and working relationships. Our deep sea biodiversity is unknown, that is, for our part of the world… it would be great to be presenting this new information when teaching our Caribbean students about Marine Biology in my classes at The UWI! Finally I can use ‘local’ examples!”
Gobin indicated that the EV Nautilus OET team expects to carry out some additional dives next year at Kick’em Jenny to zoom in on some more specific areas of interest. They will also be exploring the Gulf of Paria, east of Trinidad, (where areas of the seafloor are suspected to contain natural petroleum and methane seeps and mud volcanoes) in search of diverse micro and macro biological communities.