Rare Antarctic Sea Life Photographed by Researchers

Rare Antarctic coral is one of the organisms photographed by researchers. All photos via BAS / P. Bucktrout

Beneath the icy waters of Antarctica, in a place that seems so inhospitable, live amongst the rarest and most beautiful creatures on earth. Recently, a team of international researchers traveled to study marine life there, where ocean temperatures are rising more rapidly than anywhere else in the world. What they brought back are some of the most fascinating photographs of Antarctic sea life ever seen--portraits of organisms on the front-line of global climate change.

More pictures after the jump...The photographs, released by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), reveal a wide variety of rare marine life--from fish and octopus to giant sea-spiders and starfish, all specially adapted for their unique ecosystem. As ocean temperatures rise, the researchers warn, the fate of these spectacular organisms is increasingly uncertain.

Scientists have found that some species are very sensitive to changes in temperature, such as marine worms.

David Barnes of BAS, leader of the expedition:

Potentially, these animals are good indicators of environmental change, because many live in shallow waters, which are changing quickly, but also in deep water, which will warm more slowly. Now we have a better understanding of how the ecosystem will adapt to change.

Sea Cucumbers play an important role in the processing of sediments but is threatened by the expansion of fisheries.

According to the researchers, studies conducted near the Antarctic Peninsula have indicated a high level of sensitivity to changes in ocean temperature on the part of sea-life there. Also noted was the incredible diversity of species in a relatively small area--but even some of the most common creatures, like the sea cucumber, are already threatened due expanding fisheries.

A high level of oxygen in the water has been shown to cause overgrowth in amphipods.

Some of the organisms studied by the BAS, like krill, play an important role in the diets of whales, seals, and penguins. A decline in the population of crustaceans due to ocean temperatures rising could have a dire effect on the larger animals that depend on them for food.

This species of Mnemiopsis was found frequently in surface waters.

Barnes:

Few people realize how the southern ocean biodiversity is rich, even a simple fishing net has revealed a fascinating variety of weird and wonderful creatures.

Researchers also studied several octopuses in the region.

Biologist Sophie Fielding of the BAS:

Changes in the Earth's surface directly affect the ocean and marine animals. For example, the rapid melting of glaciers, the collapse of these glaciers and shrinking sea ice in winter, everything seems to have an impact on marine life. We want to understand these impacts and what are their implications for the food chain.

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Tags: Animals | Antarctica | Fishing | Global Warming Effects

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