Despite being frequently encountered by scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, E/V Nautilus, and other exploration vessels, much is left to learn about corals and sponges. Both are sessile (non-moving) organisms, serve as vital resources for other marine life, and can indicate the health of oceanic ecosystems. Learn more about these fascinating animals below!
Corals exhibit some plant-like characteristics, but are actually animal relatives of jellyfish and anemones. They are all within the phylum Cnidaria. All corals are classified as either “hard corals” or “soft corals”. Hard corals have a limestone skeleton, and make up the foundation of a coral reef. They can take a rounded, branching, or flat appearance. Soft corals bind together on a softer structure, and can take the shapes of whips, spirals, and trees. Hard corals can grow as much as ten centimeters per year, the same rate of growth as human hair, but most only grow up to three centimeters each year. Soft corals grow at a rate of two to four centimeters per year. When a coral reef is damaged by a storm, pollution, or by other factors, it may take a significant amount of time before it is able to recover and grow to its former size.
This weekend the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer visited Shostakovich Seamount, and began its “Water Column Wonderland” week. Check out some of the unique creatures that live beneath the sea with imagery captured by remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer! Continue reading Weekend Discoveries→
Completed on July 10th, leg three of the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer‘s EX1605 expedition was chock-full of discoveries. The Okeanos‘s remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) conducted 22 dives, exploring many recently-mapped sites in the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM). They ventured where no ROVs have dove before.
Ship-based sonar mapping, along with ROV imaging and rock sampling, revealed new hydrothermal vent sites, deep-water coral reefs, the first petit-spot volcano found in US waters, and a new mud volcano in the MTMNM.
Amid the geological findings, biologists cataloged many new species. The pictures and videos below highlight some of the newly-discovered inner-space aliens (strange alien-looking creatures) from leg three of the Okeanos Explorer‘s EX1605 expedition.
This cusk eel, found at Unnamed Forearc on June 28th, 2016, was among the first new species discovered during this leg of the expedition.
This ghost-like fish, dubbed “Casper” by land-based scientists, is a species in the fish family Aphonoidae. Until June 30th, 2016, when the ROVs came across Casper, no fish in this family have ever been seen alive.
After a long geology-based dive, the ROVs came upon this undescribed species of Pachycara, commonly called eelpout.
The scientists wished they had enough time to collect this new species of hard sponge that they discovered on July 6, 2016.
But, they were able to collect this new species of stalked glass sponge!
For more ocean exploration and discoveries be sure to check out the Nautilus Live website for updates from the E/V Nautilus! Situated of the California coast, the Nautilus is currently (pun intended) mapping and conducting dives off the Channel Islands.
The EX1605L1 leg of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer‘s trip to the Marianas was captivating, to say the least! From new species of jellyfish, to hydrothermal vent chimneys, this exploration leg was jam-packed with discoveries.
Okeanos started this cruise leg near Guam, then moved towards the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM) and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The Marianas Trench is known as the deepest part of the ocean, at almost 11,000 meters deep! The intention behind this cruise leg was to gather baseline knowledge of the biodiversity and geology of the area. The NOAA team onboard used their remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer, “D2” to explore the area.
As always, the Inner Space Center at URI published those streams in real-time to YouTube and scientists worldwide. Some dives attracted as many as 2,500 simultaneous viewers.
The biology encountered in the Marianas was phenomenal! The cruise leg started off with a six-gill shark sighting at Santa Rosa Reef.
We discovered a wide variety of creatures inhabiting the area:
One of the most enthralling discoveries was a new species of jellyfish! This hydromedusa was found at Enigma Seamount at roughly 3,700 meters:
The Okeanos Explorer also made some great geological discoveries. They explored a newly-discovered hydrothermal vent site boasting one of the highest temperatures recorded in the Marianas region: 339 degrees Celsius. (Most of the deep sea is a chilly 2 degrees Celsius.) The 30-meter chimney base was releasing black “smoke” made up of iron and anhydrite precipitate.
There were also young lava flows that had created glassy pillow mounds. The area was so new that no animals had yet colonized the area.
That’s a wrap for Leg 1! Come back for more deepwater exploration on June 17th!