Thriving in cold, dark waters 4,265 feet below sea level, communities of large, ancient, and colorful corals grace the peaks of Davidson Seamount, a 7,546-foot inactive volcano 75 miles southwest of Monterey.
- Courtesy 2006 MBARI/NOAA, www.mbari.org
“Coral reefs are charismatic and deepwater corals are even more surprising. When you’re in the deep, dark sea, you don’t expect to see brilliant pink bubble-gum corals as large as oak trees or bright yellow Picasso sea sponges,” says Jim Barry, associate scientist with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), who joined a group of scientists in January to explore the seamount.
Though the seamount was first mapped in 1933, scientists didn’t discover its abundance of deepwater corals until an initial survey in 2002 by MBARI and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Researchers undertook a second expedition to explore the seamount in late January 2006 to learn more about deepwater corals; their findings will likely be published in 2007.
Scientists know that deepwater corals grow all over the world and are among the oldest living organisms, with some individual corals reaching several thousand years old. But there is much that scientists don’t know, including why corals thrive in some areas and not others, what factors limit their recruitment, what organizes their communities, or what threatens them.
We are much more familiar with shallow-water, tropical coral reefs, 27 percent of which have been lost due to human-induced impacts. In 2000, to call attention to the plight of the world’s coral reefs, San Francisco-based Coral Reef Alliance launched Dive In to Earth Day, an international event that attracted 75,000 participants globally in 2005.