Soft coral in a new, recently described Family called Aquaumbridae. The white spots at the base of the poyps are actually coral eggs! Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2014 Expedition. Download image (jpg, 36 KB).
Dive 15 was the first shallow dive along the West Florida Escarpment at a site characterized by a number of bioherms or mounds built by marine invertebrates. A total of three bioherms were investigated during this dive. The vehicles landed at the bottom of the first bioherm at a depth of 577 meters, on sedimented seafloor with some rubble. As the vehicles began to move upslope, the transition from sedimented seafloor to the edge of hard rock was abrupt and coral rubble was everywhere. The second bioherm was characterized by rubble/debris, including coral fragments and 50-70 percent live coral cover in the area. The final bioherm sat atop old carbonate layers, some of which were broken, exposing fresh carbonate characterized by abundant fossil burrow structures. While transecting the mounds/bioherms, there was 50-100 percent cover of Lophelia pertusa coral rubble throughout the dive. Aside from Lophelia, other corals encountered during the dive included bamboo corals, black corals, stoloniferous corals, and a number of other octocorals. Other biota observed during this dive included shrimp, squat lobsters, bobtail squids, crinoids, and sponges (including a recently described new species). Throughout the dive, the Deep Discoverer remotely operated vehicle documented a diversity of fish species- cardinal fish, Darwin’s slime head, goosefish, duckbill eel, hake, rockfish, scorpion fish, rattail, and Atlantic thornyhead. The biological highlight of the dive was documenting live predation on a Primnoidae coral by a sea urchin.