Sanctuaries to livestream deep sea footage


What’s going on 10,000 feet below the ocean’s surface as you read this? Beginning Friday and extending through the week, scientists exploring the Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries with a remotely operated vehicle will broadcast live underwater footage online for public viewing. Their vessel, E/V Nautilus, is owned by the nonprofit Ocean Exploration Trust, which Dr. Richard Ballard—an oceanographer who discovered the Titanic—founded in 2008. The trust received funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration beginning in 2017 to assist deep sea research in West Coast sanctuaries. Biologists from the two local sanctuaries and the California Academy of Sciences have taken several trips on the Nautilus since 2016. The vessel offers a chance to greatly expand research: most remotely operated vehicles available to the sanctuaries can dive just 1,000 feet, but Hercules, the vehicle aboard the Nautilus, can dive up to 10,000 feet. Dr. Gary Williams, the coral researcher with the academy, said he and his colleagues will focus on chronicling the species it finds, as well as looking for new ones, particularly corals and sponges, which provide essential fish habitat. The past few years have yielded the discovery of several new types of sponges, two new coral species and the creation of a new coral genus. Hercules can collect physical samples and draw water, which scientists use to conduct DNA tests to find out which species are present in the immediate area. Dr. Williams, who is in charge of chronicling the data for NOAA, framed the exploration and commitment to chronicle deep sea biodiveristy as political as much as anything. “It has to do with excluding California from oil exploitation: that was the whole idea during the Obama administration of extending the boundaries for both sanctuaries,” he said. The trips over the past few years have focused on the areas recently added to the sanctuaries’ boundaries. In 2015, the Farallones expanded nearly threefold; it is now 3,295 square miles from north of Point Arena to Rocky Point. Cordell Bank more than doubled to a 1,286-square-mile area that features an underwater mountain range that is now a hotbed of marine life. On this week’s trip, scientists will explore Bodega Canyon, off the coast near Point Arena. They are on particular lookout for bamboo coral, a species that a graduate student at the Bodega Marine Lab is studying for the information it contains about changing ocean conditions over time. (Some specimens of bamboo coral are a century old.) In general, Dr. Williams said, research so far has shown that the deep-sea corals—collectively called octocorals—are relatively healthy. “We haven’t found any diseased corals,” he said. “You can expect a blue-green algae to grow on them, which indicates their immune system is compromised, but we haven’t seen that. There’s no coral bleaching, no algae in their tissues, and no evidence of acidification.” Watch the livestream at between Oct. 4 and 10. Cordell Bank education coordinator Jennifer Stock will call in from the ship on KWMR on Oct. 7, from 11 to 11:30 a.m., and the Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center will sponsor a brownbag lunch talk on Oct. 10 with the scientists who were aboard the Nautilus in the Red Barn Classroom at Point Reyes National Seashore headquarters.