Meet the Sci­en­tist

Marine bi­ol­o­gist, New­cas­tle Univer­sity, UK

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents -

Bi­ol­o­gist Wil­liam Reid on cli­mate change, the deep seas and Antarc­tica

Life forms in the deep, dark ocean or in freez­ing seas are im­por­tant to us.

Bi­ol­o­gist Wil­liam Reid is re­search­ing the crea­tures that live in the deep seas and Antarc­tica, to find out just how cli­mate change and min­ing could af­fect this un­der-ex­plored and re­mote en­vi­ron­ment.

As with many bi­ol­o­gists, Will’s in­spi­ra­tion be­gan with a man with whom we are all fa­mil­iar: David At­ten­bor­ough. Af­ter watch­ing Life in the Freezer as a teenager, Will be­came fas­ci­nated with the wa­ters around the Antarc­tic. He yearned to ex­plore this en­vi­ron­ment, so de­cided to study marine bi­ol­ogy at univer­sity. This gave him the op­por­tu­nity to work on video footage of Antarc­tic fish and crabs, while giv­ing him his first glimpse into the deep sea.

Af­ter years of study and work on boats and in re­mote field sta­tions, Will is now a re­search as­so­ciate at New­cas­tle Univer­sity. He stud­ies the deep sea and Antarc­tic, and is in­creas­ingly con­scious about how hu­mans af­fect these frag­ile ar­eas.

Why study life that lurks in these places and what con­nec­tion do we have to them? Will ex­plains that while we may never see the life forms in these ar­eas, they are im­por­tant to us be­cause they af­fect marine food webs: “The deep sea and Antarc­tic will be im­pacted by cli­mate change and hu­man ac­tiv­ity. This will have knockon ef­fects on phy­to­plank­ton in sur­face wa­ters, which in turn will inf lu­ence food sup­ply for an­i­mals in those habi­tats – po­ten­tially chang­ing en­tire food webs.”

We’ve all heard the de­press­ing news about plas­tics en­ter­ing our oceans. Will has seen this at first hand: “We are now find­ing mi­croplas­tics in the stom­achs of an­i­mals liv­ing at some of the deep­est lo­ca­tions on the planet in­clud­ing those found in the Pa­cific Ocean’s Mar­i­ana Trench.” Plas­tic is a grow­ing prob­lem in our oceans and one of the places where it will ac­cu­mu­late is in the deep sea.

There are other threats too. Deep sea min­ing may oc­cur in ar­eas where the seaf loor is rich in metal. “These met­als are found as nod­ules or in chim­ney struc­tures called hy­dro­ther­mal vents which are scat­tered across the seaf loor,” ex­plains Will. “They can be har­vested by un­der­wa­ter ma­chines which break or scoop them off the seaf loor. This process re­sults in sed­i­ment be­ing mixed into the wa­ter col­umn, which could neg­a­tively im­pact on the an­i­mals liv­ing in these ar­eas.”

Will’s pas­sion for na­ture drives his work. He re­flects on how his own re­search can help to con­serve these hid­den worlds. “The Antarc­tic and deep sea are frag­ile ecosys­tems and are im­por­tant for sus­tain­ing life on Earth. This means that they re­ally need to be pro­tected from the im­pacts of cli­mate change and hu­man ac­tiv­ity. I hope my work will help in­form the peo­ple with re­spon­si­bil­ity over them to make good de­ci­sions about pro­tect­ing these ar­eas for the fu­ture.” Niki Rust


Read about plas­tics in the ocean:

Will stud­ies species such as the deep sea Patag­o­nian tooth­fish. Be­low: newly dis­cov­ered anemones near a hy­dro­ther­mal vent.

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