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Environmental Management of Deep-Sea Chemosynthetic Ecosystems v

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Thir ty-one exper ts in ocean governance, industry and marine scientifc research from 14 countries convened from 31 May to 4 June 2010 at the Centre de Recherche et d’Enseignement sur les Systèmes Côtiers (CRESCO) in Dinard, France, in order to:

• Formulate general guidelines for the conservation of vent and seep ecosystems at regional and global scales.

• Establish a research agenda aimed at improving existing plans for the spatial management of vent and seep ecosystems.

Deep-sea vent and seep ecosystems were frst discovered in the late 1970s and mid-1980s, respectively, and are considered among the greatest scientifc discoveries of the 20 th century. The new insights gained from the study of these ecosystems include:

• A fundamental understanding of Earth processes (for example, convective cooling of the ocean crust, sub-crustal processes contributing to the chemical composition of seawater, and the submarine origin of major land-based ore bodies).

• An appreciation that life can exist in the absence of sunlight and oxygen, sometimes at very high temperatures (up to 121°C).

• The discovery of novel bacterial-inver tebrate symbioses based on chemosynthetic processes and a host of biochemical, physiological, anatomical and behavioural adaptations for life in chemosynthetic systems. • A defnition of the lower branches of the ‘Tree of Life.’

• The recognition that chemosynthetic systems may have played a role in the origin of life on Ear th and that chemical energy (rather than sunlight) may suppor t life on other planets.

This repor t reviews the basic characteristics of vents and seeps, considers the relative impact of various human activities on vents and seeps, and provides an overview of current and emerging concerns for the management of these ecosystems, including conservation needs and international mandates. Bottom fshing in seep areas and emergent seafoor massive sulphide extraction at vents need to be addressed as a matter of priority in the context of the spatial management of vent and seep habitats. Extractable resources (for example, mineral, oil, gas, gas hydrate) at vents and seeps are fossil in nature and are therefore non-renewable. Even though mineral deposits can form quickly at vents, commercial ore deposits only accumulate over thousands of years. Oil, gas and gas hydrates at seeps accumulate over millennia.

A number of policy instruments relevant to the conservation of biodiversity in the marine environment are now integral parts of international, domestic and customary law. Deep-sea chemosynthetic environments span multiple jurisdictional boundaries, and only a handful of countries have to date established protected chemosynthethic environments in their national waters.

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