The Gulf oil spill, terrible though it is, has focused attention on one of the least-known environments on earth. Scientists used to believe that the deep ocean was uninhabited. As scientist Tim Flannery explains, “The eternal dark, the almost inconceivable pressure, and the extreme cold that exist below one thousand meters were, [scientists] thought, so forbidding as to have all but extinguished life. The reverse is in fact true....(Below 200 meters) lies the largest habitat on earth.”
While less than 10% of this area has been explored by humans, what we have discovered to date has found its way into children’s books filled with tantalizing glimpses of ten-foot-long red worms and the enormous clams, crabs and tube worms that thrive around deep hydrothermal vents.