Abstract: Hydrothermal vents are deep-sea ecosystems that are almost exclusively known and explored by scientists rather than the general public. Continuing scientific discoveries arising from study of hydrothermal vents are concommitant with the increased number of scientific cruises visiting and sampling vent ecosystems. Through a bibliometric analysis, we assessed the scientific value of hydrothermal vents relative to two of the most well-studied marine ecosystems, coral reefs and seagrass beds. Scientific literature on hydrothermal vents is abundant, of high impact, international, and interdisciplinary and is comparable in these regards with literature on coral reefs and seagrass beds. Scientists may affect hydrothermal vents because their activities are intense and spatially and temporally concentrated in these small systems. The potential for undesirable effects from scientific enterprise motivated the creation of a code of conduct for environmentally and scientifically benign use of hydrothermal vents for research. We surveyed scientists worldwide engaged in deep-sea research and found that scientists were aware of the code of conduct and thought it was relevant to conservation, but they did not feel informed or confident about the respect other researchers have for the code. Although this code may serve as a reminder of scientists’ environmental responsibilities, conservation of particular vents (e.g., closures to human activity, specific human management) may effectively ensure sustainable use of vent ecosystems for all stakeholders.
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