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Delaware mollusks curator surveys deep-sea coral, octopods on Atlantic expedition

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Image courtesy of Northern Neighbors: Transboundary Exploration of Deepwater Communities.
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Large bubblegum coral Paragorgia arborea, along with Primnoa (orange, behind on left) and Anthothela (white, on right) corals on a rock in Corsair Canyon.

A First State scientist recently returned from a trip studying corals in the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

 

 

Scientists are gathering data on deep-sea corals to understand where they’re located, how deep, and how many different species there are.

 

Liz Shea, the mollusks curator for the Delaware Museum of Natural History, joined the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and researchers from Canada on a cruise to examine these corals.

 

“We want to protect them and that’s certainly one of the reasons why we’re spending all of our time looking and understanding to decide where we can conserve, where we can preserve and how we can keep these pristine environments pristine,” Shea said.

 

Deep-sea corals are prone to damage from bottom fishing gear, trash, and ocean acidification. Shea said it’s important to protect them because they play a key role in ocean health.

 

“They’re three-dimensional habitats in the deep ocean and they’re providing a lot of complex habitat for other animals to be living in and around and among,” Shea said.

 

Corals act as nursery habitats for fish, Shea said. The group saw shark eggs among some of the corals when they sent a remotely operated vehicle 800 to 1,000 meters down in the Atlantic Ocean to take pictures and video of the pristine habitats. Shea herself looked at octopods in the corals and even took a couple specimens back to the museum.

 

Shea said the data they gathered on the cruise will help them understand how corals reproduce.

 

The trip took Shea to explore the canyons north of Maine, but she says the research can apply here — to Wilmington Canyon as well. 

 

Here, there are a whole host of corals and octopods she still wants to know more about.

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