Way beneath the waves

  • File photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    A Hawaiian species of gorgonian called Rhodaniridogorgia bends in the current during the 2016 expedition.

  • File photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    A remotely operated vehicle collects a rock on an unnamed seamount 180 nautical miles south of Midway Island in 2016.

  • File photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    During the first operational dive of Okeanos Explorer’s 2016 season, while exploring at depths of over 4,000 meters northeast of Necker Island in the Hawaiian archipelago, Deep Discoverer encountered this ghostlike octopod. The octopod is almost certainly an un-described species and may not belong to any described genus, researchers said.

  • File photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    At the top of a ridge visited in 2015, the remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer encounters a dense and diverse, deep-sea coral community. Pictured are at least four different species of coral and at least 12 different colonies.

  • File photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    This unidentified swimming organism from the 2015 expedition mystified the team of researchers, they said.

  • File photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    A splendid perch is observed towards the top of the pinnacle feature surveyed along the southwest coast of Niihau in 2015.

  • File photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    The remotely operated vehicle Discoverer prepares to dive from the deck of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in this 2015 photo.

Scientists are searching for the underwater secrets of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, hoping to discover new life and build on previous explorations.

The Exploration Vessel Nautilis dropped beneath the waves Saturday, taking researchers to seamounts between the Musicians Seamounts and the Hawaiian Ridge to search for deep, high-density coral and sponge communities.

“We think that there could be incredible coral and sponge gardens on these seamounts based on previous work that was done nearby both inside and outside the monument,” said Dr. Christopher Kelley of the University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Kelley is a lead scientist on the expedition along with Dr. Thomas Hourigan of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Deep-Sea Coral Research and Technology Program. Expedition Leader is Allison Fundis with Ocean Exploration Trust.

The expedition is ongoing through Oct. 1.

New information could do more than just paint a picture of the monument’s seamounts and life forms. It’s also part of a bigger expedition that’s exploring the Eastern Pacific Ocean, surveying unexplored regions from British Columbia, Canada, along the West Coast of the United States, and west to the Hawaiian Islands.

The coral surrounding Kauai experienced bleaching in 2014 and 2015, when thermal stress caused bleaching throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources.

The bleaching resulted in extensive coral mortality, and in 2015, DAR formulated a Coral Bleaching Recovery Plan to develop strategies for promoting recovery following the mass bleaching event.

But scientists say bleaching isn’t the only threat to corals.

Nearshore corals could be impacted by pesticides and pharmaceuticals in runoff and increased nutrition in nearshore waters.

Some theorize corals — deep water and shallow water species alike — could be impacted by noise pollution from things like sonar.

Katherine Muzik, marine biologist on Kauai, has studied deep-water corals and specializes in Octocorallia, a type of coral that has polyps with eight tentacles.

Muzik has discovered, studied and named corals from Fiji, Hawaii, Japan, Okinawa, New Zealand and Barbados.

“The octocorals living here on our Hawaiian seamounts are the oldest known living creatures on our planet, many well over 6,000 years old,” she told TGI in late August. “These ancient octocorals are increasingly threatened to near extinction by careless human activities.”

Muzik points out militarization and mining as two threats to the lifeforms around the seamounts.

Researchers with the ongoing Nautilis expedition will conduct seafloor mapping and Remotely Operated Vehicle dives on unexplored seamounts to help determine how and when they formed and to document the biological communities that presently live on them.

Activities will be live-streamed around the clock, viewable from any computer with an Internet connection.


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