North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Life on the Edge: Exploring Deep Ocean Habitats - NC Museum of Natural Sciences Website
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Questions & Answers

08/24/03

Danielle, a high school senior in Wake County, North Carolina, asked:
What makes the coral you have found different from the other coral along the coast?

Lophelia is a deep-water coral that lives below the photic (light) zone. It therefore lacks the symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae (which may be algae or bacteria) that shallow-water corals experience. Lophelia is a "hard" coral that lays down a calcium carbonate shell as it grows. Soft corals such as fan corals, do not create any long-term structures, although some can be considered colonial like Lophelia.

Danielle, a high school senior in Wake County, North Carolina, asked:
What is the most interesting or unique creature you have seen?blue glaucus nudibranch - photo by Art Howard

One of the most amazing things I have seen is a tiny blue and white nudibranch, or sea slug which was found floating in sargassum. It was only about an inch long but looked like something from another planet. Art Howard, photographer, took a wonderful photo, which revealed amazing details.

A North Carolina State University student asked:
When you are in a submersible are you able to see the ocean life around you through some type of scope or is it impossible, and the submersible is just used for taking pictures that will be developed later?

The submersible is primarily used for specimen collection, but also allows a unique opportunity to film life under the sea. The forward compartment is enclosed in a plexiglass sphere (5 ½ inches thick) from which there is a wide view of the ocean. Because the view is exceptional, when photos or videos are needed, the cameraman uses that vantage point. In addition, a sub-mounted camera in front of the sphere can be operated from within the sphere. All still photos and video from sub cameras are downloaded immediately after the sub returns to the ship.

The passenger in the aft (rear) compartment is more cramped, and must lie down to view the great outdoors through one of two ports situated on either side of the compartment. A mini-screen shows that passenger the film being taken by the camera up front. Pictures taken from the rear compartment usually don’t come out very well.

Leigh, a North Carolina State University student, asked:
Have you ever witnessed the finding of a new species of marine life? Are there opportunities for a student like me to get out on the ocean for a summer study program? Also, is live rock harvesting, mining, and cable laying doing very noticeable damage?

Liz Baird replied:
My first year out (2001) we found what we thought was a new species. That specimen was hand-carried off the boat and sent to a specialist for identification. That can be a long process, so we are still waiting for the results. The specialist gets to name the find, and traditionally names it after the person who discovered it, the ship that was used to collect it, or the mission during which it was found.

To seek information on summer study, start by talking to a professor whose work includes ocean research. Several programs, such as "Seamester," and "Semester at Sea,” focus on seamanship and probably include some research. Some summer courses include short research cruises and some semester-long oceanography classes include at least a weekend field experience.

Live rock harvesting, mining, and cable laying all have the potential to do serious and irreparable damage to the reef ecosystem. These activities are not taking place in the areas we are visiting, although we do see many signs of fishing and trawling in the form of lines, pipes, trash, and lost nets.

Sarah, a North Carolina State University student, asked:
From reading about the artificial "reefs" caused by events like shipwrecks, it seems that they attract sea life and may even be beneficial. Based on your knowledge, is this an accurate statement?

Yes Sarah, shipwrecks make good habitat for many species of fish, especially those that tend to gather near hard reef systems. Some successful work has been done to create artificial reefs by sinking ships or depositing hard structures, but artificial, manmade habitats can not entirely replace Mother Nature, as has been evidenced quite often with attempts to recreate wetlands. Drums, trucks, train cars and other large, heavy items have been dumped at sea to create artificial reefs. Not only have these failed to correlate to greatly increased species numbers or diversity, the long-term problems of leaks and molecular changes (which occur when these items erode and break down over the years) may pose life-threatening problems that have not been explored.

Patrick, a North Carolina State University student, asked:
What kind of technology do you have on the ship, as far as computers, special radars or submarines? Also, have you ever found anything valuable, like artifacts or treasures?

We have lots of technology on board. We use GPS to create real-time maps of our track and destination, and the fathomemter to generate long displays of the ocean's depth. The captain uses many instruments (sonar and radar) to make certain we do not get too close to other vessels. The scientists also use many different kinds of software loaded on computers to keep track of all of the data and images we generate -- MiniDV tapes are converted to DVDs, still images become CDRs, sample sites are plotted on maps, and many other pieces of information are stored for later use.

The most valuable thing we get from our dives is documentation of the habitat as well as behaviors of the animals under the sea. We have not found any artifacts or treasures.