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Environment

Scientists Just Caught a 'Headless Chicken Monster' on Camera — and It Could Help Conservation Efforts

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Climate change and unsustainable fishing practices are threatening ocean species around the globe. Conservation efforts are more necessary than ever to protect the planet's biodiversity both underwater and on land. Scientists at the Australian Antarctic Division are using new technology to make an impact. Join us in taking action to protect ocean ecosystems here.

Scientists just captured the first footage of a deep sea-swimming sea cucumber, nicknamed the "headless chicken monster," near Antarctica, CNN reports.

The marine creature — which looks like a hot pink, headless chicken slinking along the ocean floor — has only been filmed before in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists were surprised to stumble upon the sea cucumber on other side of the globe, in Southern Ocean waters off East Antarctica, using a new underwater camera system developed by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).

Scientists at the AAD are hopeful that the images of the rare sea cucumber species, and the technological breakthrough that enabled them to capture it on camera, could help spur the creation of an Antarctic conservation zone.

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The new camera system is extremely durable and designed to attach to a longline, typically used in deep-sea fishing.

"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," Dirk Welsford, leader of the AAD said in a statement to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), CNN reports.

The cameras can also provide important information about the seafloor, showing scientists which areas can withstand deep-sea fishing and which areas are more vulnerable to damage and should be avoided.

Human-caused effects of climate change, pollution, and unsustainable fishing practices in the Antarctic are putting many of the region's species at risk. The scientists from the AAD presented the data at an annual CCAMLR meeting in Hobart, Australia, on Monday, using it to make a case for a new East Antarctic Marine Protected Area.

"Marine protected areas are one of the best tools we have to protect whole ecosystems in a comprehensive way," Claire Christian, executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, told CNN. "Protecting the Southern Ocean means we protect the world's last great wilderness and help its magnificent species thrive."

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A huge swath of ocean off the coast of East Antarctica — home to cold-water corals, penguins, and leopard seals, among many other species — has long been a proposed wildlife protection site.

"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 future generations," Christian told CNN.

In 2016, 24 European nations reached an agreement to make the Ross Sea in the Southern Antarctic — which comprises 2% of the Southern Ocean — the world's largest marine reserve. However, there is still much work to be done to hold governments and industry accountable to protect the Antarctic's biodiversity and ensure species like the "headless chicken monster" can thrive.