and finding a single representative, how nice it was to launch the ROV (remotely operated vehicle) today into the midst of many Lophelia colonies.As the sun gently slipped over the horizon, the ROV slowly made its way through the warm surface waters of the Gulf to the ocean floor 1,484 ft below.
As the ROV swam up the gentle slope, more and more corals became visible and the ocean floor changed from solid mud to include patches of carbonate rock.Many of the corals were now in large clusters, or "thickets," with much of the base material for the thicket consisting of dead coral rubble, which is brown and so easily visibly distinguished.The occasional small shark or eel was caught meandering through the corals but seemed impressively uninterested in the behemoth of the ROV. Wicksten of Texas A&M University indicated that it was an organism that has never before been reported from the Gulf of Mexico (click here for more on the newly discovered painted squat lobster.) The Lophelia samples are destined for cold-water aquaria at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, where experiments on their behavior and physiology will allow us to learn more about the environmental constraints on Lophelia distribution.Small samples of the brittle Lophelia coral were carefully collected with the ROVs manipulator arm and a crab and anemone were collected prior to recovering the ROV. The final dive of the day was spent exploring an area that the sidescan sonar data indicated might be a promising site to find well developed coral thickets.We peered with anticipation at the video monitors as the benthos came into view.
We expected at any moment to see bright white tangled colonies of coral appear through the gloom. Undeterred, we set off along the transect, looking for some indication that a reef might be ahead of us.Corals need a hard, solid substrate to settle upon and grow, so the presence of exposed boulders and rocks are often a good indicator that corals might be nearby.They also like high current flows to deliver food and clean water, and current speed increases over topographical high spots such as boulders or the tops of mounds.The benthos, however, remained stubbornly and uniformly flat.Often venturing into the unknown can bring the thrill of an undiscovered ecosystem, or a new and bizarre animal, but sometimes all you find is mud.After three hours we gave up searching and brought the ROV to the surface.