A red tree coral (Primnoa) festooned with rockfish illustrates the relationships among benthic communities along the Olympic Coast. Click image for larger view and image credit.

Exploration for Deep-Sea Coral Communities in Washington

May 22 - June 4, 2006

After nearly two years of planning, a NOAA-led research team completed a successful exploration to document deep-sea coral and sponge communities off the Washington coast in May-June, 2006. The expedition used a robotic Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) diving off of the NOAA ship McArthur II. Its primary goal was to find and photograph living sea floor communities in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) and to learn more about the ecological role of deep coral habitats. Because deep sea corals and sponges form community structures that extend above the seafloor, they are easily damaged by ocean-floor disturbances such as contact with fishing gear and cable trenching. Moreover, their low reproductive rates, slow growth and patchy distribution limit their recovery from such disturbances. This stressed our urgency to know their location in the sanctuary and evaluate population trends over time, particularly in relation to a recent Essential Fish Habitat closure that went into effect days after our cruise.

Three principal investigators, Mary Sue Brancato and Ed Bowlby from Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS), and Jeff Hyland from National Centers for Coastal Ocean Sciences (NCCOS), led a team representing NOAA Fisheries Service, and the private consulting firm Aquanautix Consulting. They worked around the clock with the ship’s crew and pilots and technicians from the Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility, who operated the ROV.  The May 22 to June 4 research cruise was made possible by primary funding from NOAA Ocean Exploration (OE), and with supplemental funding from NCCOS, OCNMS, and National Undersea Research Program.

Expedition: By The Numbers

Updates & Logs
Click images or links below for detailed mission logs and updates.

June 3 June 3 Two Principal Investigators reflect on the last dive of the mission, which was an exciting way to end the Olympic Coast 2006 cruise.

June 2 June 2 While exploring the unknown waters of the deepest cruise dive, the sight of the first organism next to a soda can was an eye-opener for the Olympic Coast team.

June 1 June 1 Working round-the-clock ROV dive operations and discovering Lophelia can make research parties giddy enough to sing!

May 29 May 29 The Olympic Coast 2006 research cruise confirms another location of rare Lophelia hard coral in the Northeast Pacific.

May 28 May 26 Seeing stars in the Twilight Zone, a deep-water middle-region.