Are sea sponges endangered? Are they at risk of extinction?

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Are Sea Sponges Endangered?

No! At present sponges are not considered endangered organisms because they are not facing any risk of extinction at all both in the ocean and freshwater ecosystems. In fact, they are not even considered vulnerable or threatened.

They act as sustainable resources because of the fact that sponges can grow back without any hassle after they get well-harvested in a particularly suitable environment. So, the chances of their extinction are really very very less.

Over the millions of years of evolution, sponges have successfully evolved to survive and colonize in all the seas and oceans of the world including the deep-ocean bed.

Those that were not able to evolve got extinct almost millions of years ago as reported by researchers. Just like Archaeocyaths that are an extinct group of sponges were known to exist almost about 530 million years ago.

They reproduce at a constant rate in their habitats by both sexually and asexually. During asexual reproduction, they form buds that break off from the parent body and settle at nearby locations.

They do show the highest capability to regenerate asexually as compared to other living organisms.

This also means that they can completely regenerate into an adult form from fragments or even from single cells without any hassle.


While during sexual reproduction, the larvae of the sponges get dispersed to far far distances in the ocean by water currents, and this helps in increasing the biodiversity of the sponges very well without any risk of getting endangered.

They also have a very long lifespan. During their lifetime each adult can reproduce at a rate of hundreds of thousands to millions of offspring as estimated in a lot of sea sponges that have a lifespan of more than 500+ years.

Also, it is to be noted here that some species of sponges are there that are extreme survivors and can easily survive even in extremely unfavorable conditions.

Some can survive even after the rest of the sponges dies due to unfavorable conditions. And also that their biological power to regenerate helps them a lot in the extremely unfavorable conditions.

Thus, in the end, it can be stated that due to the above-mentioned factors sponges cannot be considered endangered as the risk is near to none for these organisms.

However, there are some species of sponges that can be considered threatened in a few of the locations due to human and nature’s interventions.

We will know that also. So, just keep reading…

Beautiful Sponges at Coral Reef Ecosystem
Beautiful Sponges at Coral Reef Ecosystem

Are sponges Threatened? Let’s Know!

The sponges known so far may not be considered threatened in all locations. However, there are a few species of sponges (almost 10 to 20 species or something) of the total number of discovered species that are estimated to be threatened due to pollution, disease, exploitation, and also due to the various natural calamities like hurricanes and volcanic erruptions occuring in a few of the locations.

Actually, the threat to their existence is only in some of the man-made areas that include the benthic trawl fishing and coastal development regions as well, which impactfully causes terrigenous sedimentation in those regions.

In some of the regions where terrigenous sedimentation occurs destroying the coral reefs and intertidal areas of sea coasts due to various factors like volcanic eruptions, weathering of rocks, wind-blown dust, grinding by glaciers, and sediment carried by rivers or icebergs leads to a significant increase of inorganic salts in the oceans.

Factors causing terrigenous sedimentation in some of the selective locations can cause a great threat to the diversity of the sponges thriving there.

However, their power of resisting the effects of threatening can’t also be ignored. It’s because these species can easily adapt and evolve quickly to many different environments because of their simple biological lifestyle.

In sponges, there is the absence of any kind of tissues, organs, and organ systems level of body organization, which makes them really very very simple living. They only possess a cellular level of body organization.

This is also the answer to why they have well survived in all marine locations after millions of years of evolution as well.

According to various studies performed on the population of marine sponges in the northeastern Atlantic and Mediterranean and freshwater sponges in Europe and North America, it has been well-studied that there are chances of medium to low level of threats to their population.

This threatening is also due to the various effects of suspended sedimentation, substratum loss, microbial pathogens impact, temperature change, and heavy metal contamination in their sustaining ecosystem.

However, if we are to state about the Threatenening status of the sponges then very little information is available for most of the species and more data are actually needed from around the globe to analyse and come to a final conclusion.

But, as so far reported in some of the locations where sponges may be a little to moderate level of risks of getting threatened, then we must state that there is a critical information gap in understanding sponge conservation status for the same.

Can sea sponges die? (Their Lifespan & More)

Yes, just like any other living organisms sea sponges can die as well. However, they do have a very long lifespan, anywhere between 100 years to 2000+ years of lifespan depending on the species and the environmental factors.

In general, sponges being the oldest form of animal life can easily live for hundreds to even thousands of years.

Just, for example, the Glass Sponges (Hexactinellid Sponges) of the East China Sea and the Southern Ocean are more than 7,000 years old as estimated by researchers.

Others like the Giant Barrel Sponges (Xestospongia muta) can live for more than 2,000 years. The largest specimens of this species can be seen in the Caribbean coral reefs.

Others like the famous Antarctic Sponge (Cinachyra antarctica) that has an extremely slow growth rate has been estimated by researchers to be more than 1,500 years old.

But, there are also some tropical species of sponges and some deep-ocean dwellers as well that do live for only about 50 to 200 years or even more.

Also that this doesn’t always mean that the sponges will live for so long. As it has been reported that there are some species of sponges in temperate regions that live for only a few years.

According to a study published in 2016 by Dr. Daniel Wagner, a marine ecologist with NOAA’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, clearly states that sponges don’t have indicators of age like growth rings, but they can live for thousands of years.

Dr. Daniel Wagner has stated this above-mentioned statement in his publication after his dedicated research on Hawaii’s mesophotic coral ecosystems (reefs found at depths between 30-150 m) for close to a decade.

In many of the scenarios, you can’t make out so easily if the sponges are dead or alive. It’s because they look pretty much the same whether they are dead or alive.

During those times you may need to smell it. If they are really dead then you may get a bit of bad rotten smell from the sponge, and they will also float at the surface of the water if really dead.

Also that you can touch and feel it for more clarification. The dead sponge will always change its real shape and will never regain that original living shape if you press it a bit hard.

Answered: Are sponges really necessary for the environment?

Yes, sponges are really very necessary for the environment because they help to maintain the deep-sea diversity in the oceans. They act as primary consumers in the ocean along with zooplanktons and corals and are also a great source of food for many sponge-eating fish species.

They are huge participants in the coral reef ecosystem by providing habitat, food, and safety to the various other organisms of that ecosystem.

As well-studied in the coral reefs ecosystem, it has been seen that they provide habitat to a wide variety of fishes, shrimps, crabs, and algae as well.

They are considered indicators of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs), as they likely harbour a rich community of associated animals.

They do also perform nutrient cycling of the various nutrients like carbon (C), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and sulfur (S) in the marine ecosystem by maintaining varied symbiotic relationships with various microorganisms.

They do also take part by influencing the presence of the marine food webs from the ground level. And so, they do naturally maintain the proper energy flow in the marine environment from producers to consumers and then back to the sea bed by the decomposers.

They also act as natural pollution flters due to the presence of their water canal system that filters the seawater and potentially accumulates heavy metals and other contaminants from the environment. Thus making the water free from oil, polluting microorganisms, etc.

READ MORE: Biological, Economical, And Medicinal Importance of Sponges

Thus, you can make out how the presence of sponges is all around beneficial for the environment and the marine ecosystems.

And if anyhow they get extinct then there will be a very high loss to the environment which will be nearly an irreversible change.

But don’t worry! Sponges are nowhere to get extinct so soon.

How long have sea sponges been in the ocean?

Researchers believe that sponges were the first animals to exist on earth. They are believed to exist from more than 600 to 700 million years ago.

They are considered in the list of the first group of animals that had evolved to sustain on planet earth. Maybe that’s why many scientists have also given the sponges the title ‘Earth’s first animal’.

They are known to occur even before the Cambrian explosion that occurred 530 million years ago at the beginning of the Cambrian Period.

So, this Cambrian explosion being a massive evolutionary timespan of about 13 to 14 million years, caused the start of existence for the 20 to 35 of the major phyla that make up modern animal life.

Sponges were the ancestors of all of them and they did survive and had better evolved during that period of Cambrian explosion time.

After detailed genetic analysis researchers have got very good amounts of evidence to confirm that sea sponges are the source of various leftover molecules found in rocks that are around 640 million years old.

These leftover molecules are nothing but those trace amounts of molecules that were left behind in ancient rocks long after the rest of an animal (here sponges) has decayed away.

Maybe that’s why Scientists also consider sponges to being a very good source of molecular fossils that significantly pre-date the Cambrian explosion.

This very clearly indicates that sponges existed for more than 600 to 700 million years and are still surviving with pride.

From the pre-date Cambrian explosion period to the present day, they have well adapted and better evolved to thrive in a lot of aquatic habitats ranging from freshwater to marine to deep sea-thermals, indicating that they are nowhere to get extinct even after hundreds to hundreds of thousands of years in the future if everything goes balanced.

Conclusion: Sea Sponges are the gold mines for mankind

Yes, the statement is correct. Sea Sponges are indeed the gold mines for mankind.

It’s because they have hundreds to thousands of beneficial uses for humankind all including from the biological uses to economical uses to the various pharmaceutical uses overall.

They are important in nutrient cycles in coral reef systems, and also help in maintaining deep-sea biodiversity.

They do also highly support the marine food webs while supporting cleaner fish farming. They are also natural pollution filters.

Their Commensalism type of ecological association with several crustaceans worms, molluscs, small fishes, etc. highly helps in the growth of marine fish and aquaculture industry.

They are also an excellent natural source of food for marine life. Thus, they help marine farmers in reducing their food investment costs.

They are also used in bathroom accessories, jewellery making, home decoration, and in painting as well.

Sponges of inferior quality are often used for stuffing the sound-absorbing walls, garments saddles, cushions, furniture, etc.

They are also used to prepare Anticancer agents, Antibacterial active agents, Muscle relaxants, Antifungal drugs, Antimalarial alkaloids, Anti-inflammatory drugs, etc. for our day-to-day medicinal and pharmaceutical needs.

Not only the above-mentioned ones are the only uses that make sponges a goldmine for mankind, but there are also a lot-lot more uses that are still left to be mentioned.

So, imagine that sponges get extinct then there will be a great loss biologically, economically, and pharmaceutically to mankind.

But, there’s nothing so much to worry about as sponges are nowhere to get extinct so soon. In fact, they are not even vulnerable or threatened.

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