Considerable concern has been recently expressed in conservation circles about the potential threat to oceanic trench ecosystems. Here, the geological origin in environmental characteristics and biological significance of the trenches are reviewed.
Each trench provides a unique and isolated habitat, consequently endemicity has been found to be high at the specific level in each trench that has been adequately studied. However, the remoteness from primary food sources greatly reduces the richness of the fauna.
The physical instability of trench habitats deriving from their high level of seismic activity, will result in the organisms being pre-adapted to mechanical disturbance. The main threats are either direct through poisoning by toxic chemicals or indirect through the decoupling of the trench habitat from its primary food source, or reduction in oxygen levels caused either by eutrophication or reduction in flushing rates.
Only direct threats are considered as being at all dangerous, and any incident would be restricted to a single trench system. these threats could be reduced by rerouting vessels carrying toxic cargoes and by improving the effectiveness of the London Dumping Convention.
The internationally agreed criteria for the selection of sites for any proposed seabed disposal of radioactive waste exclude the use of trenches for this purpose.
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