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.
From August 18, 2017, to September 3, 2017, the E/V Nautilus will be exploring the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (NMS), located along the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. The sanctuary encompasses 3,189 square miles (8,260 km2), an area equivalent to the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. It extends 25 to 50 miles (40 to 80 km) from the shore, including most of the continental shelf, as well as three important submarine canyons: the Nitinat Canyon, the Quinault Canyon and the Juan de Fuca Canyon. The main objectives of this expedition are to explore and characterize seafloor resources and features associated with these submarine canyons. Quinault and Quileute Canyons have never been explored by remotely operated vehicle (ROV) or autonomous underwater vehicle ( AUV).
A shrimp with “armor.” When you’re on the menu, any evolutionary help matters.
The NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer continues to research the underwater mysteries of the Gulf of Mexico. Here is a short clip of a brief moment with an unfamiliar face. Not much in the deep sea is an herbivore, almost everything eats and is eaten. Here is a shrimp, taking a moment, possibly to digest a meal just munched. Maybe to sit and admire the bright lights of a strange and enormous creature (the ROV) or possibly to ponder on its recent rise to fame on the Inner Space Center website. Whatever it may be, I say for this shrimp, good luck.
Watch, listen, and enjoy this very short clip of an armored shrimp.
The NOAA science team stumbles upon an underwater salt lake, also known as a “brine pool.”
The NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer has been diving its ROV, D2, in the Gulf of Mexico this April. Here is a video clip of one of their awesome encounters in the depths of the Gulf. A brine pool is literally an undersea lake. The contact between salty ocean water and much saltier water (brine), means denser water liquid separates from the less dense ocean water. This saltier fluid sits and “pools” on the bottom. It’s so salty that it will erode the sediment it lies on, forming these pools. If any deep sea dwellers happen to stumble into this pool, they have no chance of getting out (and definitely no lifeguards to help!). It’s a geological anomaly for sure, but it’s a nightmare for any biology living in this normally pitch-black environment. However, those creatures that can acquire some “waterfront” property, while anchoring themselves safely, may reap some serious benefits.
Click play below to listen and learn about these eerily beautiful formations, and the creatures surviving on their deadly coastlines.
The NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is in the Gulf of Mexico for the whole month of April. Every discovery they make is being broadcast here to our site, live. Here is one that you may have missed.
The NOAA science team came across some interesting features on the seafloor. No sunlight penetrates 2800 meters below sea level, but organisms have to somehow begin a food chain for energy to survive. How do organisms get that energy, and what does it look like? Watch, listen, and learn as these expert scientists both on board and remotely involved via ISC discuss their findings live.