GRENADA BASIN: Dr. Judith Gobin, a member of the faculty of the University of the West Indies (UWI) at St. Augustine in Trinidad & Tobago, was part of a team of international scientists who made a major discovery 6,000 feet under the sea, in the ‘debris avalanche’ deposit of the Grenada Basin, west of the 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 November 14. The scientists, who are from the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET), 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-metre research vessel operated by Dr. Robert Ballard and his OET team. Dr. Ballard is internationally known for finding the wreck of the Titanic and the German military ship, Bismarck. The Nautilus carries two remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) named Hercules and Argus, which explore the sea floor and can be viewed online in real time.
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 several discoveries, including areas of larval flows and bacterial cover. However, the discovery of the 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.
“In discovering them, scientists are always very enthusiastic to determine whether there are new species living there and analyze how these animals are surviving in these conditions,” said Dr. Gobin.
The mussels found in the cold seeps were approximately 33 centimetres in length. Each of the eight specimens collected also had a large scale worm (polychaete) living inside it.
“These mussels may be the largest ever found,” said Gobin. “Previous discovery papers described similar ones in seeps but they were smaller. 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 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 recognize and extract the marine worm from one of the very large mussels.
“This is true cutting edge research and as a UWI marine scientist, I am extremely pleased to be part of it,” she said. “All samples collected from the exploration will be analyzed 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 said the EV Nautilus OET team expects to carry out additional dives next year at Kick’em Jenny to zoom in on specific areas of interest. They will also be exploring the Gulf of Paria, east of Trinidad, (where areas of the sea floor are suspected to contain natural petroleum, methane seeps and mud volcanoes) in search of diverse micro and macro biological communities.