Until recently, the deep sea was thought to be a barren biological desert, devoid of life save for a few hardy species. We now know that the cold, pressurized waters of the deep sea are home to an almost unbelievable variety of clams, worms, amphipods, and other creatures. We do not even know what we don't know about the deep sea. As a measure of the profound depth of our ignorance, consider that just in the past few years hydrothermal vents full of gold were discovered, lying right on the ocean's bottom within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of certain countries. Because the EEZs are exempt from the stringent international regulations of the International Seabed Authority (set up under the Law of the Sea), these new discoveries may set off a gold rush. This could in turn destroy one of the most bizarre and fascinating ecosystems on the planet — the only one that doesn't run off solar energy. Mining companies are already signing underwater leases with developing countries hungry for foreign exchange and mineral riches. New underwater technologies are bringing commercial exploitation of deep sea resources ever closer to commercial feasibility. How can we prevent a gold rush from destroying hydrothermal vent communities, which we only just discovered?
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