First Investigation of Recently-Discovered Cold-Water Coral Ecosystems in the Deep Coral Triangle


DOEI Funded Research: 2010


From June to August 2010, an international team led by scientists from the United States and Indonesia are collaborating to explore the depths of Indonesian waters in the heart of the coral triangle. The expedition, Indonesia-USA Deep-Sea Exploration of the Sangihe Talaud Region (INDEX 2010), features a number of firsts including: the maiden voyage of NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer; the first joint Indonesia-USA ocean exploration expedition; and the first joint international mission with two ships sending live video to scientists in Exploration Command Centers ashore.  As part of this new paradigm of exploration, NOAA OE’s goals are to provide scientists with sufficient exploratory characterization of deep-sea regions, sites, geological, chemical and biological information to conduct successful NSF-sponsored research.  In the first 12 ROV dives (half of the program), we have found what we think is the highest diversity and abundance of deep-water corals in the world.  We've also documented dramatically different suites of coral species on different seamounts and depths, suggesting high seamount endemism and important issues of connectivity and physical transport of larvae.  We request support for one semester of a student to analyze the high-definition video recorded by the ROV Lil’ Hercules, and to conduct literature searches to comparisons of this diversity to other shallow and deep-water ecosystems.  Through support from DOEI, we will conduct this video analysis of species composition and diversity by site.  We will make estimates of diversity, compare seamount fauna to those on inactive ridges and even an active vent site also discovered during this first half of the program.  With this characterization, we will immediately submit a high-impact news-worthy publication (to Science or Nature) as well as a follow on highly-competitive NSF proposal to return to the area to examine hypotheses central to deep-water ecology and evolution.