‘City’ of Life on an Underwater Mountain

 NZ scientists have discovered a vast colony of brittlestars – noiseless little creatures that taste good in garlic butter

New Zealand researchers investigating an underwater mountain range known as the Macquarie Ridge have discovered a massive sea mountain covered in starfish-like creatures known as brittlestars.

The swirling waters of the top of the sea mountain south of New Zealand are home to tens of millions of the five-armed brittlestars, existing tip to arm tip and catching their prey by simply raising their arms.

The mountain, christened Brittlestar City for its abundance of the creatures, is taller than the world’s highest building and its proliferation of creatures owe their existence to the mountain’s shape and to the swirling circumpolar current flowing over and around it at roughly four kilometers per hour.

According to a statement by New Zealand’s National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA), whose scientists made the discovery, “Macquarie Ridge is one of a few places where the Antarctic Circumpolar Current is detoured in its endless clockwise churn at the globe’s southernmost latitudes – playing a vital part in the global ecosystem, merging and mixing waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Ocean.”

Dr. Ashley Rowden , an ecologist working for NIWA, said the research team was “…excited to see such a huge assemblage of brittlestars on the Macquarie Ridge seamount. Not only is it amazing to see a vast array of one type of organism but the implications of the find for our understanding of the relative uniqueness of seamount assemblages are potentially far-reaching.”

Brittlestars are related to starfish, sea cucumbers, sea lilies, and sea urchins. The two brittlestar species observed were identified via photographs sent from the ship to the Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. However some of the species may be completely new to science and others may never have been recorded in the Macquarie Ridge region.

“It’s this sort of information will allow us to improve our knowledge of biodiversity in the deep sea, and how best to manage it,” Rowden said.

Via The Tech Herald