The government plans to designate waters around the Izu-Ogasawara oceanic trench as a marine protected area (MPA) that limits fishing and other human activities.
Behind the designation is the government’s aim to safeguard an environment said to be home to a trove of new marine species.
While promoting the analysis of substances contained in rare deep-sea creatures and utilizing the findings in the scientific and medical fields, it presents the challenge of balancing that with development of mineral resources on the seabed.
It would be the first time for the government to designate a deep-sea area as an MPA, which is a section of the ocean designated by a government to safeguard biodiversity and the ecosystem. It limits human activities such as land reclamation and fishing.
The government plans to enact a law on how the area should be conserved in the ordinary Diet session this year. The MPA will be designated after deliberations by a council of experts and other means.
Deep sea is defined as being at least 200 meters below sea level, where very little sunlight reaches and photosynthesis cannot be done by sea algae. It occupies more than 90 percent of the marine environment on the planet.
Once the environment of a deep-sea ecosystem is damaged, recovery is considered difficult, as it contains numerous unknown creatures, many of which take a long time to mature.
In recent years, experts have warned of a loss of balance in the ecosystem due to overfishing of deep-sea species. A decline in deep-sea organisms is said to have negative effects on the entire ocean, as it prevents nutritional substances on the seabed from being broken down, making it difficult for the nutrients to reach fish and algae in shallow waters.
According to the Environment Ministry, the waters around the Izu-Ogasawara oceanic trench, about 9,800 meters below sea level at its deepest part, are expected to be designated as an MPA. There are many rare creatures in the area because seamounts and other features support biodiversity.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Past a depth of 9,000 meters, a dense population of sea lilies exists on the seafloor. That organism is not classified as a plant, but is related to the sea urchin or starfish. Also, dumbo octopus, which grows to about 1 meter in length and has no lens in its eyes, and a nearly scaleless fish belonging to the family of rat fish have also been observed there.
“Progress in research on deep-sea life may promote sustainable use of marine life as food, in addition to leading to developments in the fields of medicine and science,” said Katsunori Fujikura, principal scientist at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).
In 2011, JAMSTEC discovered that mud on the seabed contains bacterium that makes an enzyme called “Agarase.” The bacterium is highly heat-resistant, and is used as a reagent for gene research. It is making a contribution to gene analysis, according to the institute.
In addition, secretions of deep-sea amphipod, a creature living in the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on Earth, could be useful for the production of ethanol.Speech