The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) released some photos (click link to view) from a recent underwater survey of the West Antarctic continental shelf in the Bellingshausen Sea, one of the fastest warming areas on the planet. They obtained stunning images of sea lice, corals and crustaceans, including some species previously unknown to science. According to Dr. David Barnes, the lead scientist on the expedition, “Few people realise just how rich in biodiversity the Southern Ocean is – even a single trawl can reveal a fascinating array of weird and wonderful creatures as would be seen on a coral reef. These animals are potentially very good indicators of environmental change as many occur in the shallows, which are changing fast, but also in deeper water which will warm much less quickly. We can now begin to get a better understanding of how the ecosystem will adapt to change. Our research on species living in the waters surrounding the BAS Rothera Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula shows that some species are incredibly sensitive to temperature changes. Our new studies on the diverse range of marine creatures living in the deep waters of the Bellingshausen Sea will help us build a more complete picture of Antarctica’s marine biodiversity and give us an important baseline against which we can compare future impact on marine life.”
I am a firm believer in preserving nature for nature's sake. I think it's a major problem that people often can't be convinced to care about environmental protection unless there is a direct threat to humans. Sometimes you simply cannot quantify the harm in destroying an ecosystem other than to say that it is not likely that humans are the one species that can avoid the consequences of environmental damage. Or that since we don't completely understand how ecosystems work we probably can't innovate our way out of every crisis. But since some people need more concrete evidence, pictures like these do serve a useful purpose. They have a sort of whoa factor that reminds people that nature is still full of surprises. And making the public understand just what it is they lose when we lose biodiversity is an important first step to obtaining support for any number of protection measures.