NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009
Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 7, 2009
Today I attended the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences – NOAA workshop on Deep Water Corals a few blocks from the North Carolina State Capital. Scientists, Professors, Teachers, Museum personnel and Management specialists met to discuss research, current understanding, methodology, protection and management of the deep water coral reef which exists on the edges of the planets’ continental shelf and slopes. Most people are aware of the warm water shallow reefs that occur worldwide – most people however are unaware of the corals and the reefs that exist nearly 1000′ feet beneath the surface of the ocean. Actually, only with the availability and technology of submersibles and remote operated vehicles (ROV’s) in recent years have scientists really begun to understand this unique ecosystem and the potential threats.
Awareness of these corals – dominated by the species of deep stony corals (Class Anthozoa) Lophelia pertusa – was made primarily by fisherman who pulled these branching corals up with their nets. An interesting fact is the Lophelia species itself may have been classified by the creator of the system of classification himself – Carolus Linneus. It was easily a couple of hundred of years from the time of Linnaeus classification to the moment a human saw these corals in their natural habitat. One of the scientists at this meetings was Sandra Brooke – Director of the Coral Conservation Center – who discussed the differences between shallow and deep corals. Whereas many know about the significance and threats to shallow water corals – the need to recognize the significance of deep water corals is even more vital. This is what I hope to convey through this site and my trip. Deep water corals provide a diverse – if not more diverse ecosystem as shallow corals. Lophelia and other deep corals provide the eco-framework for thousands of species – essentially a rainforest of the deep sea. These corals have already begun to provide extracts to fight cancer, Alzheimers and viral infections. Since all things in the deep cold waters take so long to grow – Lophelia and other species can be hundreds to thousands of years old ( A Golden Coral colony recently harvested for jewelry was found to be 4000 years old).
Corals have growth rings not unlike trees, in the corals scientists can see a window into the ocean’s past – determine ocean temperatures, salinity, heavy metals and other trace elements in the corals can indicate volcanic eruptions and even Saharaan dust storms. So not only do these corals provide a home and place on the food chain for thousands of species-contain a potential wealth of medicines – like a Rainforest – they are like our Redwoods and Bristlecones and ice cores – providing a window into the planet’s paleoecology. I hope to discuss more about what I learned at this briefing to set the stage for my voyage next week- including the technology and methodology scientists use to explore the deep seas- what specimens and data scientists collects, what happens to these specimens and how and what scientists learn from these specimens. The species of animals that lives on the deep water reefs and how scientists, the government and private sector work together to manage these ecosystems into the future.