Pacific News Minute: New Species of Sponge Discovered in Central Pacific; Named for UH Professor

Oct 10, 2017

Metallic nodules on the ocean floor
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Expeditions led by a University of Hawaii professor discovered a new species of sponge that lives 13 thousand feet under the Central Pacific ocean. Little is known about Plenaster Craigi except that it lives on metallic nodules that were once used as one of the most elaborate cover stories of the Cold War. We have more from Neal Conan, in today’s Pacific News Minute.

In the early 1970’s, Howard Hughes constructed a bizarre vessel called the Glomar Explorer, ostensibly to pluck potato sized rocks rich in manganese off the floor of the Central Pacific.

But that was just the story.

The Glomar Explorer’s real target, was a sunken Soviet submarine. K-129 was lost with all hands in water three miles deep. After the CIA decided to retrieve it, they needed a highly specialized ship and a plausible explanation. 

K-129 broke apart as it was being lifted and many of its secrets lost.

But more than 40 years later, the International Seabed Authority has allocated exploration licenses to companies who want to scoop nodules off the ocean floor in the same area. An enormous region the size of the continental U.S. that lies between Hawaii and Mexico known as the Clarion Clipperton Zone. 

At the same time, scientific surveys discovered unlikely forms of life in those cold, dark waters. Expeditions lead by Craig Smith, an oceanographer from the University of Hawaii, returned with samples of an entirely new type of sponge that lives on the metallic nodules. Not just a new species, but a new genus.

And so abundant, scientists say it could be useful to gauge the impact of the enormous plumes of sediment generated by deep sea mining…if anyone ever actually decides to try it.