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Living in the Dark: Gulf of Mexico

Climb aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster to explore deep-sea coral ecosystems off the Southeast U.S.


The purpose of the expedition is to survey a deep-sea coral ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico, about 150 nautical miles off st. Petersburg. We're currently investigating areas under consideration for protection by the fishery management council.

Odysseus is a science class system and on this trip we're going to be supporting NOAA in their efforts to understand the habitats of the Florida shelf.

The thing that strikes me most about deep-sea ecosystems is how little we know about the largest ecosystem on this planet. You look out at the ocean and it's flat and it goes on for miles and you have absolutely no idea what's down there.

Very complex, we're trying to address everything that we can address in order to make this a successful and smooth operation.

Scientists can think of it, we try to put it in and recover it. So it all works as a unit to keep it going.

We're going to locations that have never been explored. Currently 282 meters of depth. Now we're mapping areas that have never been mapped before in detail.

Everybody has a specialty; Like mine is fish, there's other people that are sponges, there's other people that are coral. So it takes a whole team of people to get the whole ecosystem view. We combine efforts and we combine resources and we use each other's expertise and really learn about this ecosystem that we depend on.

Grab samples with the arm and it's more exciting, like "oh grab that! Move that! Put that in there".

We use DNA technology the same that you use in say CSI Miami, DNA fingerprinting, the OJ Simpson trial, we use that exact same technology only we use it in deepwater coral.

There are some species that have been dated to be several hundred, to upwards of thousands of years old. It's a lot of work for what might seem like a very little product, but at the end of the day it's small things like that, that we learn from and advance from.

The primary thing that we are trying to protect these corals from is damage from things like bottom trawling, deep-sea mining. And the Deepwater Horizon was illustrative of moving into these deep waters can affect these deep-sea ecosystems.

We started about 12 days ago with no samples and now we have about 50-some. It's hard work, we fought the currents, the winds, the waves. We ran north, we ran south. We got it all done.

We found enough information to warrant these areas as being habitat areas of particular concern. We realize that collecting this type of information is one of the first steps to try to develop conservation measures that will hopefully help protect these ecosystems in perpetuity