Last frontiers for human exploration
We find it ironic that so much effort and so many resources are put into the exploration of outer space, at a time when humans are progressively using resources to depletion and when so little is known about the biological diversity of the earth. Why is there all this publicity about ancient life discovered on the planet Mars when there are regions of the Earth where life has yet to be explored?
Life at the extremes of environmental conditions are to be found on the Earth. For example, studies of life atgreat depths in the oceans has hardly begun. Recently, an entire new kingdom of deep organisms, the Archaea, has been recognised; although discovered some decades ago, genetic analysis has shown them to be quite unlike any other kind of life (Earle, 1996).
We have been concerned to read of proposals for using deep oceans for disposal of global waste that is inert or rich in metals or even in organic compounds (but not industrial organic compounds). Quite rightly, some proponents of these methods of global waste management have recom-mended the need for appropriately scaled experiments and further research on the processes that maintain the diversity of benthic assemblages (Angel & Rice, 1996).
The oceans are truly one of the last frontiers for exploration and the challenges of undertaking such exploration are huge. The mechanics of sampling are difficult, little is known about the taxonomy of the biota at great depths, and the low density of some organisms and the cryptic nature of the many creatures make them difficult to locate. Once located and if captured (which is not easy), there are more difficulties because there are no well-developed techniques for ensuring that the material is not damaged during retrieval.
The biogeography of the sea, particularly the biogeography of the ocean depths is worthy of much greater attention and can justify much greater support for research than questionable work on the possible existence of life on another planet.