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The deep reefs of Palau exhibit similar structure and function to deep reefs from the Caribbean. Specifically, autotrophic species (those that rely on photosynthesis for their energy) are common in both locations to a depth of about 200 ft. In Palau the dominant autotrophic species are corals, which contain symbiotic plant cells within their tissues, while algae are the more common autotroph of Caribbean reefs. In both locations there is a switch to sponge-dominance at depths of 250 to 300 ft. However, it is intersting to note that sponges in the Caribbean are massive species that extend into the water column, while those of Palau are merely films on the surface of the wall. This may be due to differences in current flow at these sites.

Two sites within Palau, Turtle Cove and Siaes Wall, exhibit identical depth-specific community structure. This despite the fact that the sites are about 20km distant, and "see" very different oceanic exposures. These data, and those from qualitative surveys of at least two other deep reef communities in Palau, would seem to indicate that the structure and function of these communities are characteristic of Palau deep reefs. When these data are compared to deep reefs in Guam, Chuuk and Pohnpei which also exhibit similar species gradients, the data imply a commonality to Pacific reefs. It is our hope that these characteristics can be translated into a broader model of deep reef structure and function that can be applied by scientists and resource managers at locations worldwide.


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Pacific Deep Reefs 2011

NOAA Ocean Explorer Gallery