1999 Update

Reprinted from InterRidge News 8.2 (Nov. 1999)

by Lauren S. Mullineaux, Chair and Cara Wilson (InterRidge Coordinator)

An unusual event caught the attention of the Biology Working Group this year: the announcement in April that tourist visits to the Rainbow vent site were being scheduled for October 1999. The cruise organization was being done by Zegrahm DeepSea Voyages, a tour company that has previously conducted tour groups to the Titanic. The platform for the cruises was the Akademik Keldysh with the MIR submersibles.

This announcement instigated a spirited discussion of what InterRidge's response should be. On one hand, tourism could be used as a valuable education outreach program, by raising the visibility of mid-ocean ridge science to the general public, and by heightening awareness of the sensitivity of hydrothermal vent environments to anthropogenic impact. On the other hand, uncontrolled visits to vents have the potential to disrupt scientific research and have a negative impact on the vent organisms and their habitat.

As InterRidge representatives, we contacted both the tour operators and the chief of submersible operations, Professor Anatoly Sagalevitch of the P. P. Shirshov Institute, to get more information. Prof. Sagalevitch described the cruise as a scientific expedition with some tourists included to help cover costs and thus InterRidge elected to treat the Keldysh expedition as any other scientific cruise. The principal scientists involved in the Keldysh effort were put in contact with scientists currently working at Rainbow vents. Information was exchanged about the objectives of the MIR dives and the locations of ongoing observations at Rainbow. This information is posted on the InterRidge Hydrothermal Vent Ecological Reserves web site.

The Biology Working Group plans to follow up on this issue to help guide InterRidge policy and responses in the future to tourism at vents.

In addition, progress has been made on numerous biological projects:

Contributions from the First International Symposium on Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vent Biology

The Contributions Volume from the First International Symposium on Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vent Biology (Madeira, Portugal, October 1997) was published as volume 39(3/4) of Cahiers de Biologie Marine. The volume, with 43 papers, came out in February 1999 and can be purchased from Manual Biscoito in Madeira. InterRidge sent copies as gifts to selected libraries that do not subscribe to the journal, including 6 to Russia, 15 to Japan and 1 to Canada.

Database of Hydrothermal Vent Biology Samples

InterRidge established a database of hydrothermal biology samples at the request of participants at the 1997 International Symposium on Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vent Biology. But despite energetic attempts to solicit contributions to this database only one set of samples from a single cruise has been submitted. Thus an alternative approach was devised, and summaries were solicited from major individual collections. Such summaries, including the approximate size of the collection, the geographical and taxonomical emphasis, and a contact person, have been submitted by: The Field Museum, Chicago, IL, USA; The Smithsonian, Washington, DC, USA; the P.P.Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, Russian Academy of Sciences; and the Mullineaux lab., Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, USA.

There has been renewed interest in the database in the past 6 months and we expect at least some of these summaries to be expanded into on-line sample listings. Meanwhile, we continue to encourage other major collectors to submit summaries, and cruise PI's to submit sample listings.

Hydrothermal Vent Fauna web page

Andrew McArthur has supplied a compilation of data on known hydrothermal vent fauna, and this information is available on the InterRidge web page in database format. Much of the information displayed in this data base was published in Tunnicliffe, et al. 1998 (Adv. Mar. Biol., 34, 355-442, 1998), but information is also being added as it becomes available. The database lists almost 500 species that have been identified as hydrothermal vent fauna. It also contains the geographical range of each species and relevant references. We encourage additional contributions to this database, and thank Andrew for his generous efforts.

Hydrothermal Vent Ecological Reserves web page.

Since 1997, InterRidge has maintained the Hydrothermal Vent Ecological Reserves web page in order to allow scientists to post the location of vent sites that they request remain undisturbed for a specified length of time. To date, ecological reserves have been proposed at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, East Pacific Rise and Juan de Fuca Ridge. In addition, a request has been made to delay mining operations at western Pacific vents in order to allow for scientific study. The reserve postings vary in breadth and scope; at Juan de Fuca the Canadian government has proposed the Endeavour vent field as a pilot marine protected area, while the reserves at the other areas consist of requests from individual scientists conducting experiments at those areas.

Workshop on Management of Hydrothermal Vent Ecosystems (Fall 2000).

The motivation for this workshop is the realization that the increasing interest in vent habitats from different interests can lead to incompatible activities at individual vent sites. InterRidge has been concerned with the issue of how to regulate scientific activities at vents, and that concern has broadened with the new prospect of vent tourism and mining. In particular, the interest of some companies in mining deep vent habitats raises the possibility of large-scale damage or destruction of little-known vent communities in the Western Pacific, with its consequent reduction in biodiversity and loss of critical biogeographic and evolutionary information.

The main workshop objective will be to develop mechanisms for managing multinational activities at vents, in international and EEZ waters. The effects of various uses of vent ecosystems (i.e., what damage occurs) will be discussed, and a rationale derived for why it is important to preserved these systems. Specific, uniquely sensitive vent sites will be identified and plans drafted for sites currently exposed to multiple users, including Endeavour, 9°N East Pacific Rise, Rainbow, and Lucky Strike. Finally, recommendations will be made for future conservation research.

The workshop will be convened by Drs. Kim Juniper and Paul Dando. An organizing committee is being assembled of scientists and policy makers from InterRidge nations and international policy and conservation organizations. An announcement describing the workshop in more detail will be issued by InterRidge.

Hydrothermal Vent Biology Symposium (Fall 2001)

Daniel Desbruyères is organizing a hydrothermal vent biology symposium in Brest in September 2001. This meeting will provide an opportunity for international hydrothermal biologists to review the objectives of the InterRidge biology working group and to generate a new plan for the next 5 years.