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Scientist Spotlight: Sandra Brooke

November 23, 2010
Dr. Sandra Brooke

Dr. Sandra Brooke

Sandra received her bachelor’s degree in biological science and a master’s in bioaeronautics in England. She also received a master’s degree from William and Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Her Ph.D. is from Southampton Oceanographic Center in England.

Sandra works at the Marine Conservation Biology Institute. Her specialty is deep water corals, studying their anatomy, biology, and physiology. Sandra became interested in marine biology through her time spent at the Cayman Islands, where she learned to dive. She was fascinated by marine research and in “learning to see what was below the ocean.”

Sandra’s role as co-chief scientist in the Deep Corals Expedition is to help the chief scientist run the cruise. When finished with field research, they will describe the habitats and animals found living around the corals. Her personal research is examining oxygen consumption and reproductive ecology in organisms such as Lophelia pertusa, a type of cold water coral. Back in the lab, she will examine feeding habitats, growth, and coral biology in a manner that can’t be conducted on a research vessel.

Public outreach is important to Sandra because many people never have the opportunity to come in contact with these ecosystems. It is difficult to understand something you can’t see. These deep sea coral habitats are at depths of 200–2000 meters. She feels outreach is important in helping the public understand these coral systems. The science is important to protecting and conserving resources around deep sea coral reefs. “They’re beautiful systems….One of our goals is to bring that beauty into people’s lives.”

The corals are fascinating to Sandra, and she finds the number of animals that live around the deep sea habitats interesting. “So many animals are packed into these coral colonies. There is a lot more to find. We’ve just scratched the surface. Every time we leave, we know we’ve left so much down there.”

The highlight of the trip for Sandra was finding the 200-meter-deep sea coral reef. They were working on a hunch that Lophelia might be found in this area, but had no idea what they might find. Their work paid off; they found Lophelia growing in a place it shouldn’t exist. This location was way out of the depth range for Lophelia.

On the Extreme Corals Expedition, we have been using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called Jason to collect samples from the ocean floor. Sandra stated that Jason is a world class vehicle and has a good collection capacity. One difficulty scientists have to work around in this area off Florida’s coast is maneuvering the Gulf Stream. Jason is capable of handling it because of its structure and its capable crew.  During past mission, scientists have used human occupied vehicles, called submersibles, for research, but Jason has the ability to stay on the bottom for a long time, where a submersible does not.

Interview with Sandra (mp3)

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