Microbes Point the Way to Shipwrecks

By Katherine Kornei.

Off the coast of Mississippi, under 4,000 feet of water, a luxury yacht is slowly disintegrating. Marine creatures dart, cling and scuttle near the hull of the wreck, which has been lying undisturbed for 75 years.

But there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to this shipwreck and others, researchers have now shown — distinct assemblages of microbes inhabit the seafloor surrounding these structures, helping to turn shipwreck sites into artificial reefs rich in life.

Shipwrecks are trespassers on the bottom of the ocean, human-made structures decidedly out of their element. But a wreck’s intrusion gradually becomes welcome as various forms of marine life seek refuge among the steel and wood.

The macroscopic animals that inhabit shipwrecks are only there thanks to much smaller forms of life, said Leila Hamdan, a marine microbial ecologist at the University of Southern Mississippi.

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