This trip is one more example of the amazing opportunities that come up when working at such a dynamic place as the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. We have been collaborating with Dr. Steve Ross for several years on his deep-sea research and have had other Museum staff and NC educators on board to send back curriculum, images, interviews, etc. This time, two of us from the Museum (myself and Peyton) were the lucky ones. We also had Beverly Owens, an outstanding teacher from Shelby, and Art Howard as videographer/photographer. Together, we have tried to share some of what it is like being on a ship and what the realities of deep-sea research are as well as something about a few of the amazing creatures found at these depths.
This is an environment that none of us knew much about before this trip. It is great to be surrounded by so many experts who can tell us something about the community or the particulars of one species or another. And when the specimens from the ROV are brought on board, there is excitement as scientists scramble to retrieve what they need and we begin the barrage of camera flashes as deep-sea paparazzi. It is mainly then that I am able to appreciate the incredible beauty and diversity of the deep. On video screens you see the large thickets of coral, some amazing sponges, some fish, and some crabs and the occasional other invertebrates. When you get the samples on board, you begin seeing all the amazing variety of tiny organisms — the brittle stars, tiny starfish, minute crabs, worms, soft corals, cup corals, encrusting sponges, and even some things people aren’t quite sure about. Each sample is a treasure trove of knowledge from a place so few scientists have been able to study.
So, looking back on this experience, I have learned how difficult this type of deep-sea research can be — expensive, may require months, if not years, of planning for a single cruise, requires a team effort, and yet you are still at the mercy of the ocean’s winds and currents, and there is always the possibility of a technology malfunction. And yet these scientists continue to do what they do — discovering new things, sharing what they find with the rest of us, and encouraging us to care and to understand. I admire them for what they do and what they know. This experience has made me more aware of an amazing world just off our coast. It has made me want to know more and, maybe some day, see it again.
I asked several of the science crew to give me a highlight from this trip. Here are some of their answers:
- We got 75% of the planned dives accomplished — had 12 planned and we were able to do 9. With these currents in November that can be difficult.
- There’s more diversity in the ocean than I ever realized and that coral reefs don’t have to be tropical warm environments but they can be deep cold environments. Everybody does research in their own way with their own interests — lots of different topics in this type of habitat because it is such a diverse area.
I liked seeing all the different kinds of things — different crabs, urchins, starfish.
- The bioluminescent bamboo coral.
- I have an appreciation and respect for a different environment and a basic understanding of how marine research is conducted; how technology is used in exploring the ocean and how different types of organisms rely on one another in these types of habitats.
- It reinforced how important it is to have a sense of humor; a sense of common mission can get folks through unexpected delays; loving what you do is very important, that too will carry you through.
- The big roly-poly
- The importance of teamwork in getting the job done — there is 274 ft to work in and people have to work together toward a common goal.
Finding the shallow water reef. It was in a place that it shouldn’t exist. The science team decided to dive at this location on a hunch based on some second hand information. We really had no clue what we might find, but it paid off. This location is way out of the usual depth range for Lophelia.
- Discovering a shallow cold water community that was documented off Jacksonville. There is an entire cold-water community there, which may be due to upwelling of cold water in this location. This will lead to additional studies of this region.
- Diving the on the reef where I had been 28 years ago and to have a chance to come back and explore it was truly amazing; that first dive was when we first realized there were deep water reefs out there — geologists thought they were just sand dunes.
Surprised that the area was covered with sponges, an unusual site compared to other sites.
- The best thing was learning from other people; learning something new from everybody every single day; how to take better notes; appreciate sunrises and sunsets.
- There’s still a lot out there to discover — saw some things I have not seen before.
- The tissue from stony coral reminds me of snotty gossamer.
- Getting some samples — that’s what I came for; that’s what I got; that’s what I’m leaving with.
- Seeing and learning more about the deep-sea environment