In the early morning of April 15, 1912 , in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, about 600 kilometers off the coast of Newfoundland, the famous ocean liner RMS Titanic sank after colliding head-on with an iceberg that tore its hull to starboard. 1,496 people lost their lives in the accident. Since then, the remains of the ship have rested on the seabed, at a depth of more than 3,800 meters , in two fragments separated from each other by just over half a kilometer.
More than 110 years later, the wreck of the Titanic continues to be a source of admiration, curiosity , exploration, and also a tourist attraction—with the risks it entails, and the unfortunate consequences that everyone already knows. Since its discovery in 1985 , several expeditions, some manned and others not, have taken photographs, taken samples, recovered remains and even 3D scanned them, tracking the effects of the sea on the remains of the ship, in the last four decades.
And on the expeditions, living beings have also been observed
The animals of the Titanic
Most of the life observed on the RMS Titanic wreckage is animal life. The easiest to observe are sessile animals, which do not move. Among them, the gorgonian of the species Chrysogorgia agassizi stands out , one of the known corals capable of living at greater depths. In 2000, abyssal fauna researcher Georgyj M. Vinogradov, from the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology in Russia, published a study in which he described the monitoring of one of these specimens, located at the end of the ship’s bow railing . as if announcing that he was “the king of the world.” The researcher verified its development, from the first observation of it in 1991, when it was barely 4 centimeters long, until the last one recorded, in 1999, when it already measured 12 centimeters.
Other sessiles found are crinoids , the so-called sea lilies, related to starfish – one of them is also observed on the bow rail, on the first support on the starboard side; and ascidians , botijo-like animals, related to chordates. All of these creatures grow almost anywhere they can attach themselves. They have even been observed in the coal reserves of the engine room.
Although these creatures dominate the landscape like grasses on a meadow, there are still other animals that have made the Titanic their home. Beings that float adrift, arrive with the currents, inhabit the environment for a time and disappear again. Mainly, worms of different groups, and tiny crustaceans . And feeding on them, and on the particles of organic matter that fall from higher layers of the ocean, other creatures swim or walk among the wreckage.
Polychaete worms make their tubular burrows among the remains of the ship; Crabs and sea spiders roam the decks, and ctenophores float between the rooms. Observations of some small octopus have been reported, and there is a mention of an abyssal fish, with an intimidating appearance, although of a tiny size. Although an identification was not reached, the description of the witness, as well as the geographical region, suggests a pelican fish ( Eurypharynx pelecanoides ), a black abyssal creature, with a mouth so enormous that it can swallow fish larger than he. Fish with transparent skin with bioluminescence have also been reported, a common feature in deep-sea fish.
- Gorgonian (Chrysogorgia agassizi): A special type of coral that lives deep underwater, seen on the front railing of the ship.
- Crinoids (Sea Lilies): Creatures similar to starfish that attach themselves to various parts of the wreckage.
- Ascidians: Animals resembling containers, related to chordates, found in different areas of the ship.
- Polychaete Worms: These worms build tube-shaped homes among the remains of the ship.
- Crabs: Moving around on the ship’s decks.
- Sea Spiders: Small spiders found on the wreckage, likely moving around.
- Ctenophores: Floating creatures moving between the rooms of the ship.
- Octopus: Small octopus species have been seen near the Titanic.
- Abyssal Fish (Possibly Pelican Fish – Eurypharynx pelecanoides): A tiny, intimidating-looking fish found in the deep sea.
- Fish with Transparent Skin and Bioluminescence: Fish with see-through skin and the ability to produce light, a common trait in deep-sea fish.
The basis of the ecosystem
The findings of life on the Titanic were surprising to Robert Ballard and his colleagues when they discovered the remains in 1985. They expected to find the wreck in a more preserved state than it was, almost like a barren wasteland, only corroded by rust and erosion, and not an environment full of life.
In its more than one hundred years of rest, the Titanic has become almost its own abyssal ecosystem, an island of biodiversity on a much poorer ocean floor, colonized by multiple species, and from there they have dispersed beyond the limits. of the shipwreck.
Due to the absence of nutrients, life is very scarce in these environments. Sunlight does not reach and therefore, algae and plants are not viable. Without firm primary production , ecosystems are maintained with great difficulty; They are barely nourished by the organic matter that is deposited, gradually and slowly, and in very small quantities, from more superficial waters, or carried by currents.
The Titanic is an exception for good reason: abundant remains of organic matter —in the form of wood, animal and human bodies, and bacteria— were washed to the bottom along with the wreckage , providing animals with abundant sustenance to proliferate.
However, food runs out. There is something else about the Titanic that provides nutrients to its particular and strange ecosystem. A bacteria discovered in the wreck of the Titanic, in 2010, by Spanish researchers Cristina Sánchez Porro and Antonio Ventosa , from the University of Seville, and Henrietta Mann and Bhavleen Kaur, from Dalhousie University, Canada, may be the answer. . It was named Halomonas titanicae . A bacteria that inhabits the abyssal bottom, which has the capacity for chemolithotrophy : they obtain their energy from the oxidation of sulfur, and in the process, they degrade metals such as iron, very abundant in the remains of the shipwreck, forming rustic, structures. similar to icicles, composed of decomposing rusty metal and bacteria.
Although H. titanicae is now known to be a virtually ubiquitous bacteria on the seafloor, the vast amount of resources provided by the Titanic can sustain massive populations of this bacteria, which in turn serve as the basis for an unusually rich ecosystem . In fact, that gorgonian found by Vinogradov in 1991, which has not stopped growing, sits on a railing completely colonized by these bacteria. An ecosystem that is sustained, literally, at the expense of devouring the Titanic.