What are scientists up to in your national marine sanctuaries?
In Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, researchers are kicking off an expedition to explore the sanctuary’s deep-sea ecosystems!
Using a remotely operated vehicle, scientists from Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary will explore the sanctuary’s deep-water ecosystems. Photo: Charleston Lab
Located off the coast of Southern California, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary protects remarkable biodiversity, productive ecosystems, and sensitive species and habitats. But more than a quarter of this ocean treasure remains unmapped and little-explored. This month, a research expedition will change that.
Throughout April and May, a team of NOAA-led researchers will explore the sanctuary’s deep seafloor environment. Deep-sea environments like those in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary provide nurseries and habitat for commercially-important species such as lobster, squid, and sea urchins. Some deep coral reefs may also produce chemicals that could be key to the next generation of medicines. However, these habitats are under threat. The two-week cruise on board the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada will shine a light on how these ecosystems are impacted by a variety of stresses facing them, such as ocean acidification.
When we burn fossil fuels like oil and gas, we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. When the ocean absorbs this carbon dioxide, chemical reactions occur that reduce seawater pH and the amounts of available calcium carbonate minerals. This is known as ocean acidification. Calcium carbonate minerals are the building blocks for the skeletons and shells of many marine organisms, including deep-sea corals.
Lophelia pertusa (white coral at left and lower-right) is a deep-sea coral that is sensitive to ocean acidification. Photo: NOAA
2014 survey results indicate that corals in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary are already experiencing effects from ocean acidification, and waters in this area are projected to become even more acidic. Corals support extensive fish and invertebrate populations, including commercially-fished species, so it is important to monitor the potentially harmful effects ocean acidification has on deep-sea corals. Using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the ocean acidification team will collect samples of Lophelia pertusa, a stony reef-building deep-sea coral found in the sanctuary. Researchers will also monitor water chemistry in and around reefs to help measure local effects of increased carbon dioxide emissions and to assess this ecosystem’s overall vulnerability to ocean acidification.