Dr. Amy Baco-Taylor : Mission Goals
What we were trying to learn on this expedition was what species of coral were on each of the seamounts, how many species there were, and if the species were the same on each seamount. Also if there were specific depth distributions for each of the species. It’s really important to study these deep sea corals because, in a lot of the parts of the world, people are going and fishing these seamounts, they are going down and trawling, and pretty much scraping everything off of the seamounts and leaving nothing behind. So it’s important to study seamounts in areas where they haven’t been affected yet by fisheries, to get an idea of that the communities are supposed to look like, so that we can go back and study the impacts on the seamounts that are being affected.
The samples we collected on this mission fit into a larger study that I am trying to do; looking at different seamounts at different depths in Alaska and in Hawaii, trying to figure out if there are general patterns of coral distribution. Trying to understand and generalize certain families that live in certain areas, why corals are at the areas they are in. On this mission, we had no idea if we would even find any corals, because nobody had ever dived on these seamounts before. In fact very few seamounts have ever been explored throughout the world’s oceans. We had no idea how many corals we would find or what species, or even how they would be distributed.
On this mission, we were able to collect a number of corals. I think we collected about 150 specimens. We were able to get a sense of which species were abundant on the peaks of the seamounts versus on the slopes and near the base of the seamounts. We collected over 42 different species of corals. So what were doing now is trying to identify all the coral samples that we collected, and that could take a number of years. We are having them identified by people at the Smithsonian institution, and also hope to use molecular methods, sequencing their DNA to help figure out the species identifications. Once we have some idea of what species were seeing, we can compare species lists between different areas and different parts of the world.