Deep Sea Exploration

Deep sea coral and sponge habitats are some of the most biodiverse in the ocean. The cold, nutrient rich waters at the bottom of the sea support an immense amount of life from fish to sponges to tons of microscopic plankton and bacteria.

Humans rarely if ever get the chance to see this incredible ecosystem. But that doesn’t mean we don’t affect it. With an ever-increasing human impact on the planet and ocean, including the deepest places, there is an increasing need for research, management, and protection of the deep sea. Pollution, changing ocean conditions, fisheries, and resource extraction activities, can negatively impact sensitive deep sea habitat. The more we know about marine life in these areas, the better we can protect it.

Greater Farallones Association provides technical and scientific staff support to deep sea expeditions led by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, and Monterey Bay national marine sanctuaries off the north-central California coast, contributing to the collection of vital data that informs deep sea protection.

Rockfish in a deep Cordell Bank reef

Learning about the Deep Sea off the California Coast

In August of 2018, Association research staff joined Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary scientists for a two-week trip aboard the NOAA ship Bell M. Shimada off the coast of north-central California to survey and map the seafloor using remotely operated vehicles. In addition to Sanctuary partners, the collaborative project included personnel from NOAA National Center for Coastal Ocean Science, NOAA Office of Coast Survey, Marine Applied Research and Exploration, US Geological Survey, California Academy of Sciences, and Marine Conservation Institute.

The research team recorded images of habitats as deep as 2,000 feet (600 meters). Thirty-one specimens were collected for identification, including some specimens observed for the first time in these sanctuaries. Highlights included an observation of a six gill shark, the most northern observation of a stony colonial cup coral and a new observation of a gorgonian coral (likely Eugorgia sp.), in addition to abundant and diverse fish and invertebrate communities. (View images below) 

Many of the surveys were in Essential Fish Habitat and Rockfish Conservation Areas, some of which have been proposed to be either newly opened or closed to fishing in 2019. The information collected through this research is used to inform management of these sensitive marine areas.

Read more on the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries website.

Photo credits: NOAA / MARE (Marine Applied Research and Explorations)