Establishing biodiversity baselines in a deep-sea mining claim

Bryozoan attached to a olymetallic nodule

Polymetallic nodules are home to many deep-sea species, such as this bryozoan. Credit: Adrian Glover, Thomas Dahlgren, Helena Wiklund.

Principal Investigator

Dr Adrian Glover

Project summary

  • Focus: Documenting the baseline biodiversity of animals in deep-sea Pacific mining claims
  • Funding: UK Seabed Resources Ltd.

We are studying biodiversity in the UK's polymetallic nodule mining claims in the deep abyssal Pacific.

In 2013, a UK company announced its intention to explore an area of the seafloor abyss in the Pacific Ocean for potential seabed mining.

As part of the international project ABYSSLINE, we are documenting the biodiversity of the region to assess what impact the mining may have.

We are joining multiple deep-sea cruises to the area, with the aim of describing its species and studying their natural history using DNA and morphological methods.

The exploration area, in a region called the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, lies 1,500 kilometres off the coast of Mexico. The abyssal seafloor here is rich in polymetallic nodules – rock concretions containing metals such as manganese, nickel, copper and cobalt. The nodules also contain rare earth elements (REEs) and other metals important to the high-tech and green-technology industries.

Unique ecosystems exist around these deposits, but little is known about their composition or biogeography. The majority of the species from the region are undescribed and lack scientific names.

We know that annelid worms account for around 60 per cent of the macro-fauna, and other species include molluscs, echinoderms, crustaceans, bryozoans, sponges and cnidarians.

The research team show how they collect and analyse their samples


Since the project began in 2013, we have spent 70 days at sea on two cruises to the area. Both were operated by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), aboard the RV Thomas G Thompson and RV Melville.

Documenting the biodiversity of the region and establishing an accurate taxonomy will help us establish the risk that potential mining activities may present to these ecosystems.

Biodiversity research

We are creating molecular and digital tools to explore undiscovered biodiversity.

Invertebrate research

Our scientists are investigating the taxonomy, systematics and biodiversity of groups of invertebrates.

Zoology collections

Our zoology collection has 29 million animal specimens and is rich in voucher, type and historical specimens.