Deep-Sea Exploration and Biodiversity Discovery

Deep-sea biota at 1200 feet in depth off the Farallones Islands

Gary Williams, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology, was the invertebrate zoologist on board the ROV Deep-Sea Coral Cruise in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS), between October 1 and 12.  The goals of the cruise included the exploration and documentation of deep reefs in the marine sanctuary, and to conduct digital imaging and specimen collection.  The cruise took place on the NOAA Research Vessel Fulmar and was sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), that part of the U.S. Department of Commerce that administers the National Marine Sanctuary system.  An ROV was used for the deep-sea exploration.  ROV stands for Remote Operational Vehicle, a tethered undersea robot that is capable of still and video photography as well as specimen collection. 


Three deep-sea regions were explored on the continental shelf near the Farallones Islands and on the edge of the shelf near the continental slope. The Academy is the repository of all specimens collected during the cruise.  A wealth of material was brought back for the Academy’s marine invertebrate collections, including sponges, corals, barnacles, and echinoderms.  Rockfish and lingcod were the most commonly encountered fish at all depths.  High resolution digital images and video of deep-sea biotic communities between 125 and 450 meters in depth was highly successful.  A robotic grasping arm is used to collect specimens and to deposit them in a collecting box at the front of the ROV.  The intense pressure encountered at depth and the change to sea level does not affect organisms that do not have air spaces, such as marine invertebrates. 


Management and conservation policy-making in our marine reserves calls for knowledge of regional deep-sea biodiversity and the monitoring of the impact of past trawling practices, as well as the effects of pollution and other environmental factors.  In addition, proposed boundary changes for marine reserves is dependent on deep-sea exploration and biodiversity assessment, such as was conducted on this cruise.



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