Mountains Under the Sea


Bathymetric map of what is now called the Davidson Seamount
By United States Coast and Geodetic Survey

Anne Muir and Bruce Gulland explore the unmapped mountains of the sea floor: seamounts. Seamounts are the home to many ocean animals.

Watch Video


Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Anne Muir.

Voice 2 

And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

Aurélie Spadone knows all about mountains. She lives in Switzerland, close to some of the highest mountains in Europe. But Aurélie has just been on a trip to study mountains of a very different sort. Normally you look up to see mountains - but for these mountains, Aurélie had to look down; deep down. Aurélie has been studying mountains that are thousands of metres under the sea. Scientists have a special name for these underwater mountains. They call them ‘seamounts’. Today’s Spotlight is on ‘seamounts’.

Voice 2 

To be a true seamount, a mountain has to be completely under the sea. It also has to be more than 1,000 metres high. All the world’s oceans contain seamounts. There are over 100,000 of them in the world - and yet scientists have studied only about a hundred of them in detail. There is still a lot about seamounts that we do not know.

Voice 1 

Seamounts are most commonly volcanic. Like volcanoes on land, they are formed by melted rock coming from under the earth’s surface. In some cases the seamounts can grow very quickly as fresh rock rises from the sea bed. One example is near the coast of Grenada. This seamount increased its height by 75 metres in just 20 years. And because seamounts are volcanic, they are most common in particular areas. These are the areas where the earth’s continents meet. One of these areas is in the Indian Ocean. This is where Aurélie’s ship has been.

Aurélie is one of 20 scientists who have been on a six week trip to the south-west Indian Ocean. They wanted to study the creatures that live on the seamounts.

Voice 2 

Ocean currents move water across the bottom of the sea all the time. When these currents meet a seamount they push water up the side of the seamount, towards the surface. The water carries material from the bottom of the ocean - including small plants and animals. Fish and other sea animals feed on this material - and so seamounts become special places where sea life grows very well. This makes seamounts very interesting to the scientists. On this trip, the scientists studied five seamounts.

Voice 1 

The scientists explored the seamounts using an underwater vehicle. They controlled the vehicle from their ship. No-one rides in this vehicle; instead it is full of cameras and measuring equipment. It can also collect material from the bottom of the sea, including plants and animals. It brings them back to the surface for the scientists to study. Aurélie was clearly excited to see the first dive of the vehicle, with all the different sea animals. She wrote about it on the trip's Internet website:

Voice 3 

“I must admit it was amazing, watching the live pictures from the vehicle, looking at these small red shrimps, crabs, colourful corals, sponges and fish swimming in front of the vehicle.”

Voice 1 

It is very probable that some of the sea animals that the scientists have found on these seamounts will prove to be new species - animals unknown before this trip.

Voice 2 

But Aurélie and the other scientists have not just been looking for interesting new sea animals. The main reason for their trip was to protect the seamount environment from harm. The problem is that scientists are not the only people who like seamounts. The fishing industry has discovered that seamounts have plenty of fish. This is because the rising water brings sea life from the deep sea. Fish feed on this sea life. Fishing boats come to take advantage of these large numbers of fish. But this leads to a problem. The fishing boats use large, heavy nets that they pull along the bottom of the sea. The nets are designed to rub along the bottom of the sea - the sea bed. In this way they catch the fish that are hiding on or near the sea bed - but they also damage the sea bed.

Doctor Alex Rogers was the chief scientist on the trip. He told the BBC:

Voice 4 

“The fishing boats use equipment that destroys natural systems that live on the seamounts. When the fishing equipment comes near, creatures dive down to the sea bed. This is how they behave to avoid their natural enemies. But the fishers often use bottom nets to catch these animals. These nets have huge metal doors to keep the nets open. The nets also have huge rollers to permit them to bounce along the sea bed. These nets completely crush very delicate, weak animals like corals.”

Voice 1 

The scientists on the ship have no power to prevent the fishing industry from using these harmful methods. But their studies have increased the knowledge of how serious the problem is. They found evidence of human damage on all five of the seamounts that they visited. On one seamount they saw a fishing boat working. The scientists could clearly see serious damage caused by fishing. They could also see that sea life was healthy in the areas without fishing.

Voice 2 

Aurélie looked back and thought about the wonderful sea creatures she and the other scientists had seen. She wrote of tall tree-like structures made of coral, bright coloured shrimps, urchins shaped like sticks, angry-looking crabs, glass-like sponges and funny looking big-eyed fish. And, she said, the list goes on.

Voice 3 

“We count ourselves among the few honoured people who have seen live images of these amazing things - a thousand metres and more below the surface of the oceans in that cold, dark and quiet world.”

Voice 2 

So, the scientists finished their trip to the seamounts with mixed feelings. They saw the wonder of unknown and beautiful sea creatures, but they also saw the damage humans are doing to these wonderful creatures’ home.

Voice 1 

Pierre-Yves Cousteau is a famous expert on underwater life. He wrote about the group's findings on their Internet website. Let us give him the last word:

Voice 5

“Life is a chance. As far as we know it only exists right here, on this planet. We mistakenly call this planet ‘Earth’ when really it is mostly covered in water. We must care for it, or we will watch it drop slowly through our open hands.”

Voice 1 

The writer of this programme was Mike Procter. The producer was Luke Haley. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at http://www.radioenglish dot net. This program is called, ‘Mountains Under the Sea’.

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye

(Get our app for Android or for Apple devices. Let us know how you like it and write a review!)

Question:

Do you think it is important to protect hidden places, like seamounts?

Comments


Luis Piedra's avatar
Luis Piedra
said on June 05, 2014

The scientists have much to discover in the sea.

Avatar Spotlight
Dela
said on June 08, 2014

I enjoy watching the movies about the amazing world under the sea surface. These uncommon areas mustn’t be destroyed by the humans’ activities. The new rules should be appointed to reduce fishing mainly using the bottom nets that destroy life on the sea bed. This sealife is beautiful, however, very delicate, tender and it will become extinct without humans’ protecting. The people should solve urgently this big serious problĂ©m to rescue the undersea life from harm and extinction too.
Thanks for the excellent topic!

Avatar Spotlight
minhdy
said on November 16, 2014

Human being on this planet has not preserved around environment in which has the ocean. The fishers have caught sea resources exhaustingly. Specially, they use bottom nets which destroy creature life on the sea bed. This is greatly dangerous for our environmental life. In my country, the fishers use not only bottom nets but also electrical equipment or TNT explosive in the sea. I understand what they do.

Avatar Spotlight
nguyenthuy
said on January 19, 2015

I love to discover the life under the sea . It still has many mystery things to consider . The earth was cover more 70 percents of water and most of that are the sea . A lot of knowleadge need to find out . However , while we have not had information about the life under the sea yet , there were destroyed by human . Many coral reef was be extinct and of course amount of fishes will be also descended by no place to live in .While the human still continue catching a large of amount fish . We need to take care more our environment , that mean proctect for our life . Thank spotlight for interesting topic !

Avatar Spotlight
Janeth Moh
said on May 06, 2015

The seamounts as much other places around the world should be protected. This place is full of biodiversity under the sea, one of the most remarkable features of the Earth. However is comprehensible that people around these spots need to work and feed, therefore they take this oportunity as and advantage. Furthermore, I consider essential the autorities performance in order to protect and increase more opportunities for inhabitants.

Avatar Spotlight
Honneur
said on May 12, 2018

The former conformation of the Earth’s surface is supposed to be a large amount of soil, forming a unique and singular continent, during past millions years. Then, slowly and slowly that surface divided into seven pieces: and became in the Continents like we know nowadays. In the space between the pieces were formed the oceans and the seas. It’s a big and amusement trip, full of deads, surprises and secrets…

Avatar Spotlight
Honneur
said on May 12, 2018

Human greed is destroying the planet not only in the inhabited spots but also beneath the surface of the seas and the earth. The United States exploit shale gas and cause irreversible damage to groundwater.