Headless chicken monster spotted in proposed conservation zone off Antarctic coast

The species of sea cucumber has only ever been spotted before in the Gulf of Mexico in 2017.

Researchers have invented a camera technology that has helped them film a species of sea cucumber popularly called the ‘headless chicken monster’ in ocean waters off Antarctica.

The organism — Enypniastes eximia — has only ever been spotted before in the Gulf of Mexico in 2017, and captured on camera for the first time in Antarctic waters this week using a new technology.

The finding could add weight to the ongoing effort to create a new conservation zone in the Antarctic, according to a CNN report.

The underwater camera technology was developed by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) to make long-range commercial fishing applications sustainable.

"The cameras are providing important information about areas of seafloor that can withstand this type of fishing, and sensitive areas that should be avoided," Dirk Welsford, AAD leader was quoted in a statement.

"Some of the footage we are getting back from the cameras is breathtaking, including species we have never seen in this part of the world."

Data from this and previous studies by the AAD will be presented at an annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), where new protection areas for maritime fishing will be proposed.

The CCAMLR is an international convention comprising 24 member nations, including India, and was established as a regulatory committee to protect marine life and integrity of the Antarctic ecosystem.

The large area off the Antarctic coast, where the headless chicken monster was tracked, also houses other delicate species like cold-water corals and penguin foraging grounds. It has long been pitched as a strong Marine Protected Area (MPA) candidate.

Emperor penguins in Antactica heading for a hunt. Image courtesy: Kim Goetz

Emperor penguins in Antarctica heading for a hunt. Image courtesy: Kim Goetz

Regions off the East Antarctic coast region have been part of past dialogues at CCAMLR — thrice — only to have been rejected by China and Russia, both of which have fishing interests in the region, a Nature report said.

All 24 CCAMLR member nations must agree on a proposal for it to be accepted, and conservation groups are confident that this will be the year for the coast off East Antarctica to be green-lit.

"Many changes have been made to the original proposal to address concerns by countries. Almost all CCAMLR Members have agreed it is ready to be adopted," Claire Christian, executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, said in a statement.

"We are therefore optimistic that any remaining concerns can be addressed".

The species in the area are prized, and in need of dedicated conservation efforts, Gillian Slocum, CCAMLR Commissioner for Australia, said in the statement.

"The Southern Ocean is home to an incredible abundance and variety of marine life, including commercially sought-after species, the harvesting of which must be carefully managed for the future.”

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