North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Life on the Edge: Exploring Deep Ocean Habitats - NC Museum of Natural Sciences
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Q: Have you had any experiences similar to this?

A: Being a part of a research mission is an opportunity to be in a new environment and learn to use new skills. Many of us have had similar experiences where we have been in a new setting such as traveling in the tropics, on a sailboat, or overseas. We are fortunate to work with lots of scientists and crew who have spent lots of time on ships. They are able to make the mission run smoothly and help make decisions when we have to choose new survey sites. Experiences such as this highlight the importance of being flexible, being able to work with any group of people, and being willing to try new things. Even those of us who cannot identify every fish are valuable members of the team because we can learn other ways to help make this a successful trip.

Q: Is coral in every ocean? What coral species have you found to be most abundant? How long does coral live? Have you discovered any new species of coral?

A: Coral is best known from tropical regions, but can be found in temperate areas as well. As far as we know, coral does not grow in the Arctic or Antarctic Oceans. Coral needs good water quality and a stable environment to thrive.

Lophelia is the coral that we came to find and we have been successful at finding it in many locations. We have seen other hard and soft corals. We are not aware that we have discovered any new species of coral, but we will not know for certain until we get back to the lab and examine our samples more closely. Lophelia is a deep water species and had not been extensively studied. Coral grows very slowly. Some species may grow a millimeter a year. When we see large mounds of coral, we know that it has taken many hundreds of years for that area to grow. These Lophelia Banks may be hundred to thousands of years old. Some of the samples we collected should go to a laboratory where they can figure out the age of the coral.

Q: What sea creatures live in coral?

A: Coral is an animal. What we think of as "coral" is actually the hard deposits created by the coral polyps. We have seen worms with lots of little legs along their sides. These worms live in tubes that they build on the coral. There are anemones that look like flowers on some pieces of coral. There have been gastropods, which are snails, and bivalves, which are clams, attached to the coral. In amongst the branches, we have found lots of brittle stars and galathae crabs.

Q: Does the sea get darker as you go deeper?

A: The sea does get darker as you go deeper in the ocean. The amount of sunlight that gets through the water is also dependent on something called "turbidity." Turbidity describes the cloudiness of the water. You might have seen a stream that runs clear most of the time, but after a big rainstorm looks like a river of mud. The sediments that have washed into the stream have increased the turbidity.

Q: How did this mission get started?

A: The Chief Scientist for this mission is Dr. Steve Ross of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve. Many of the scientists on this mission have worked together for several years. They began working off of Cape Hatteras at an area called "The Point" when oil companies were proposing to drill in that location. The scientists had an idea of what they might find at The Point but knew that they needed to get data to confirm what was there. This exploration lead to other questions and the study of the Lophelia Banks. This particular mission (Islands in the Stream 2002 second leg) is focusing on the Lophelia Banks, a comparison with some ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico, and a proposed Marine Protected Area.

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