This deep sea dweller has natural water filtering abilities

If you haven’t heard of larvaceans, you’re not alone. These relatively unknown sea creatures are surrounded by a three-foot balloon of mucus. As gross as that sounds, researchers recently learned that these animals play a critical role in climate change mitigation and the preservation of ocean ecosystems. 

Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute found that these tadpole-like creatures remove vast amounts of carbon-rich material from the water around them. When their mucus membrane becomes too clogged, they release it. As it quickly sinks to the seafloor, it locks in this carbon and traps it on the seafloor along with microplastics and other pollutants it has collected. This happens, on average, every 24 hours. 

The team used a novel laser system to provide 3D imaging of the deep-sea animals and their mucous filters. New technologies are providing the opportunity to study species that previously lived too deep in the ocean for human eyes. 

In addition to their mucus, larvaceans also use their tails to filter water. The aquarium estimates that the organisms in their tanks filter as much as 21 gallons per hour. 

The ocean contains 99 percent of the world’s biosphere, including 25 percent of the carbon humans have produced since the Industrial Revolution. Understanding how animals naturally filter the water around them is critical for helping scientists gain a full picture of the ocean environment and emulate these techniques in man-made technology. 

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