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Coral Researchers Embark on a Series of Cruises

Coral Researchers Embark on a Series of Cruises

October 31, 2012

Dr. Paul Sammarco and Research Assistant, Dan Beltz, along with Ms. Emma Hickerson, Ms. Marissa Nuttall, Mr. John Embesi, and other scientists from NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), embarked on a research cruise to assess the relationship between benthic biological species diversity and bathymetry off the edge of the continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico.  The purpose of this exercise was to be able to determine whether certain areas should be accepted or avoided for deep-sea oil exploration and production.  Twelve deep banks off the edge of the continental shelf are suspected to possess Potentially Sensitive Biological Features. 

The group recorded coral, fishes, and other types of sea life using an ROV (remotely operated vehicle).  They also collected water and sediment samples for concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons.  The ROV took still pictures to record benthic organisms within the context of bottom rugosity, or roughness, and the degree of species diversity in these areas.  The depths examined were between 80 and 140 meters.  Black coral samples were collected by the ROV for closer observation by Ms. Nuttall for her studies on antipatharian corals.

By studying 12 banks across the northern Gulf of Mexico, from Galveston, TX to the Mississippi River, it may be possible to ascertain how far west oil derived from the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill extended, and what the effects were on the sea life. Six of the 12 banks were sampled.  The team will embark on their next cruise in spring 2013, with a final cruise in fall 2013.

Dr. Sammarco and Dan Beltz will conduct another cruise in the Gulf to examine an invasive species of coral that has started spreading through the northern Gulf of Mexico.  A previous study focused on Tubastraea coccinea and Tubastraea micranthus, both from the Indo Pacific, to determine their distribution, abundance and competitive abilities.  The planned cruise will determine the presence of T. micranthus on oil platforms in the northern Gulf.  Genetic studies will determine if the populations on different oil platforms are from the spreading of one invasion or from multiple invasions.