Shipwrecks May Actually Be Helping the Environment


| LAST UPDATE 06/10/2022

By Stanley Wickens
shipwreck microbial impact research
Eric Volto via Getty Images

It's a known fact that human activity has increased exponentially across the planet in the last few decades. And as we're often told, that comes with various environmental consequences, including global warming, air pollution, and habitat loss. But thankfully, we've finally discovered a positive impact human activity has had on the planet...

Covering the ocean floor are more than three million shipwrecks - and while that may sound like trouble for the swimmers who inhabit its deep waters, turns out that couldn't be farther from the truth! Although these shipwrecks do alter the microbial habitat of the ocean floor, apparently this change actually boosts productivity! "Microbial communities are important to be aware of and understand because they provide early and clear evidence of how human activities change life in the ocean," revealed author Dr. Leila Hamdan of the University of Southern Mississippi, US.

shipwreck ocean biodiversity research
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The researchers who made the discovery studied two 19th-century shipwreck sites in the Gulf of Mexico, where they investigated the diversity in the wood of the ships. They collected samples of biofilms by placing pieces of pine and oak at the shipwreck and up to 200 meters (656 feet) around it. After four months into their research, the scientists were able to measure the microbes using gene sequencing, including all bacteria, archaea, and fungi. "Ocean scientists have known that natural hard habitats, some of which have been present for hundreds to thousands of years, shape the biodiversity of life on the seafloor," added Hamdan. "This work is the first to show that built habitats (places or things made or modified by humans) impact the films of microbes (biofilms) coating these surfaces as well. These biofilms are ultimately what enable hard habitats to transform into islands of biodiversity." But her research doesn't end here...

Since there are thousands of oil and gas platforms that line the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, researchers have yet to investigate what microbial impacts they could have as well. "While we are aware human impacts on the seabed are increasing through the multiple economic uses, scientific discovery is not keeping pace with how this shapes the biology and chemistry of natural undersea landscapes," said Hamdan. "We hope this work will begin a dialogue that leads to research on how built habitats are already changing the deep sea." We'll be staying tuned to find out more about this interesting discovery...

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