CIMM Speaker Series: Rolling in the Deep
Featuring Lizzie Duncan Research Ecologist with the NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
It’s likely no surprise that corals and sponges are critical foundation species that provide numerous benefits to humans. But, did you know that the majority of coral species live in the frigid deep sea, beyond the reach of light?
The deep-sea is the largest and least studied ecosystem on earth. Far below the surface of the ocean is a hostile environment characterized by crushing pressure, acidic water starved of oxygen, frigid temperatures, and complete darkness. These conditions make studying the deep-sea habitats fraught with hazards and technical challenges. However, recent advances in technology have allowed scientists to explore seafloor features such as underwater canyons, seamounts, ridges, trenches, faults, and seeps that are thousands of meters below the surface. In these seemingly inhospitable places, researchers have discovered vibrant and thriving coral and sponge communities that create oases of life amidst an otherwise sparsely inhabited environment. And despite the remoteness of this system, life in the deep-sea is still impacted by the day-to-day activities of humans at the surface. Deep-sea coral and sponge communities are fragile, vulnerable, and valuable resources that need protection.
From 2018 to 2021, the West Coast has been the focus of an incredible field research initiative involving several unprecedented deep-sea expeditions conducted off different ships which deployed a variety of cutting-edge technologies. Lizzie Duncan has been co-coordinating the research program since 2018. As the initiative winds down this year, the newly captured images and data are being analyzed by several agencies and organizations across the U.S. Join Lizzie as she walks you through the deep, dark world of deep-sea coral and sponges through the lens of the West Coast Initiative – from what deep-sea corals and sponges are and why they’re important, to the threats they face and what tools scientists are using to study them. Highlights will include never-before-shared images and findings from recent expeditions in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and beyond.