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Global Ideas

Don't hassle the 'Hoff' crab: Scientists discover six new marine species

A team of scientists has identified six new marine species, including a hairy-chested "Hoff" crab in deep-sea hot springs earmarked for mining exploration.

A species of hairy-chested 'Hoff' crab - nicknamed for Baywatch star David "The Hoff" Hasselhof - is among six new animals discovered in undersea hot springs in the depths of the Indian Ocean. 

Scientists from the University of Southampton, Newcastle and the London Natural History Museum discovered the crabs, two species of snail, a species of limpet and two worm species in an area called Longqi, which means dragon's breath, 2000 kilometers southeast of Madagascar but say they might not be unique to the area. 

"We can be certain that the new species we've found also live elsewhere in the southwest Indian Ocean," said Dr Jon Copley, who led the research team. "They will have migrated here from other sites, but at the moment no-one really knows where, or how well-connected their populations are with those at Longqi."

The researchers explored an area the size of a football stadium on the ocean floor using a deep-diving remotely operated vehicle. They identified around a dozen mineral spires known as vent chimneys. These chimneys can reach more than two storeys above the ocean floor and nourish deep-sea animals with the hot fluids they vent. 

However, they are also rich in copper and gold, and are garnering interest from mining ventures. The expedition was intended to record the ecology of the area, which is licensed for mineral exploration by the International Seabed Authority of the United Nations. 

"Our results highlight the need to explore other hydrothermal vents in the southwest Indian Ocean and investigate the connectivity of their populations, before any impacts from mineral exploration activities and future deep-sea mining can be assessed," said Copley. 

The team's findings were published in journal Scientific Reports.