Deep-sea coral discovery off Western Australia


This 27 February 2020 video says about itself:

Perth Canyon 4K ROV Highlights

Over the course of a month, the “Great Australian Deep-Sea Coral and Canyon Adventure” research team explored and visited never-before-seen areas of submarine canyon systems off South West Australia, including in the Perth Canyon. Watch some of the amazing scenery and beautiful animal life they encountered in this 4K highlight video.

From the Schmidt Ocean Institute:

Deep-sea coral gardens discovered in the submarine canyons off south Western Australia

February 28, 2020

Summary: Stunning ‘gardens’ of deep-sea corals have been discovered in the Bremer Canyon Marine Park by Australian and international scientists during an oceanographic expedition.

Bremer Canyon Marine Park is already known as a biodiversity hotspot for marine species such as whales and dolphins, however, a recent expedition focused on the deep sea has now revealed rich and diverse ecosystems inhabiting the cold waters deep within the canyon. Led by researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA), these discoveries were only made possible by the philanthropic Schmidt Ocean Institute’s (SOI) deep-sea remotely operated vehicle, SuBastian, which is capable of sampling depths to 4,500 meters.

The team strategically collected deep-sea corals, associated fauna, seawater, and geological samples from the abyssal depths (~4,000 meters) to the continental shelf (~200 meters). “We have already made a number of remarkable discoveries from the Bremer Canyon”, said Dr Julie Trotter, the Chief Scientist from UWA who led the expedition. “The vertical cliffs and ridges support a stunning array of deep-sea corals that often host a range of organisms and form numerous mini-ecosystems.”

These new discoveries are being integrated into a comprehensive package of biological, geological, and bathymetric data. Such rare records of these deep-sea habitats are a new and very important contribution to the Marine Parks, which will help managers as well as the broader community to better understand and protect these previously unknown ecosystems.

This 27 February 2020 video shows some of the discoveries.

The deeper waters in the three oceans that surround Australia, including the world’s largest barrier reef and submarine canyons, are largely unexplored. The expedition explored the Bremer, Leeuwin and Perth canyons, all of which have extensive fossil coral deposits, with the Leeuwin especially notable for a massive pedestal-like coral graveyard.

“This has global implications given these waters originate from around Antarctica which feed all of the major oceans and regulate our climate system”, said Professor Malcolm McCulloch from UWA.

Australia has only one oceanographic vessel available for scientific research and no supporting deep-sea underwater robots, which makes this expedition so important and rare.

Facing the Southern Ocean, the Bremer Canyon provides important information on the recent and past histories of climate change and ocean conditions in this region, as well as global scale events. Because the Southern Ocean completely encircles Antarctica, it is the main driver of the global climate engine and regulates the supply of heat and nutrient-rich waters to the major oceans. “A particular species of solitary cup coral was found during the expedition. This is significant because we are working on the same coral in the Ross Sea on the Antarctic shelf, in much colder waters,” said collaborator and co-Chief Scientist Dr Paolo Montagna from the Institute of Polar Sciences in Italy. “This is an important connection between disparate sites across the Southern Ocean, which helps us trace changes in water masses forming around Antarctica and dispersing northward into the Indian and other oceans.”

Great Barrief Reef-Australian continent lives interdependent


This 2017 video is called The Global Coral Microbiome Project, Part 1 – Australia.

From Yale-NUS College in the USA:

Airborne microbes link Great Barrier Reef and Australian continent

January 29, 2020

A team of researchers led by Yale-NUS College Professor of Science (Environmental Studies) Stephen Pointing has discovered a link between two different ecosystems, continental Australia and the Great Barrier Reef, due to airborne microbes that travel from the former to the latter. The finding showed that the health of these two ecosystems is more interconnected than previously believed, hence holistic conservation efforts need to span different ecosystems.

Microbes are fundamental to the health of ecosystems, playing roles such as providing energy, oxygen and carbon to other organisms and recycling nutrients from other organisms’ waste products. Prof Pointing’s team recently published two papers in established scientific journals Nature Microbiology and The ISME Journal (a Nature partner journal) on the role of microbes in connecting ecosystems, specifically how microbes from one ecosystem can have significant effects on the well-being of a completely different ecosystem.

The team’s success has grown from development of a new apparatus and methodology to accurately study microbes in air — something that has never been previously done due to the low abundance of airborne microbes and how quickly they degrade once captured for sampling. The team’s first paper, published in the June 2019 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Nature Microbiology, revealed this method and highlighted how some microbes survive better than others during transport in the air over the Southern Ocean.

Their second paper, published in The ISME Journal in November 2019, focused on the interconnectedness between earth, sea, and sky. Prof Pointing and his team observed that vital microbes essential for the flourishing of the Great Barrier Reef are present in the air, and are in fact transported through the air from other ecosystems like the Australian continental landmass.

While there has long been speculation that airborne microbes are absorbed into the Reef, this was the first study that confirmed the existence of such a link. Genetic testing highlighted that the most abundant shared species in the air and coral played important functional roles in both coral and soil ecosystems, suggesting that the atmosphere acts to connect these ecosystems by transporting microbes essential to the health of each between them.

Prof Pointing, who is also Director of the Division of Science at Yale-NUS, said, “In order to make effective policy decisions to protect our natural environment, it is vital to have reliable data on the level of connectivity between different ecosystems. The role that the air plays in ecosystem connectivity has not been appreciated until now. Our research provides empirical evidence that distant ecosystems on land and at sea are connected by the multitude of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi that are transported in air currents between these ecosystems. Because microorganisms are so important to ecosystem health, any change to their transport patterns can have potentially catastrophic environmental impacts.”

The team’s third paper, specially commissioned by Nature Microbiology and published on 28 January 2020, is a position paper setting the direction of research in the field for the next five to 10 years. It explores ways in which human activity affects how microbes are transported in air, such as how pollution particles in the atmosphere can kill microbes, or disrupt or alter their transport patterns. It also explores the potential of some microbes to detoxify toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) compounds in the air, which are known to cause cancer in humans, although further research is required to determine the feasibility of such an endeavour.

Indonesian coral reefs video


This 12 November 2019 video says about itself:

Indonesia’s Coral Reefs

In the second installment of National Geographic’s “Into Water” 360 series, dive into the crystal clear waters of Indonesia with marine social ecologist and National Geographic Explorer Shannon Switzer Swanson. More than a quarter of the world’s aquarium fish population comes from Indonesia. Shannon works with local communities, documenting fishing practices. She is hoping to learn why some fishing families have developed sustainable practices while others have not. “Into Water: Indonesia” is the second stop on an around the world 360 tour that documents the work of female Explorers who’ve dedicated their careers to water-related issues.

While many conservation plans focus on only environmental indicators for success, a new coral reef program is trying a relatively new approach: focusing on both social and ecological processes and outcomes to ensure a long-term future for coral reef systems: here.

New deep-water coral discovered off Panama


This 2912 video says about itself:

Hannibal Bank Expedition Video

Panama’s Coiba National Park, part of a major migration route for marine animals in the Tropical Eastern Pacific–from the Galapagos to Costa Rica’s Cocos Islands— remains largely unexplored. From Mar. 4-10, Mission Blue, founded by Sylvia Earle, oceanographer, environmental advocate and National Geographic ‘Explorer In Residence’, will explore Hannibal Bank, the top of an undersea mountain near Coiba Island.

Mission Blue aims to use films, expeditions, the web and new submarines to create a campaign that ignites public support for a global network of marine protected areas—Hope Spots–large enough to save the blue heart of the planet.

Scientists from the Smithsonian and from Panama’s government research institute, INDICASAT-AIP, as well as representatives of Panama’s Environmental Authority, ANAM and Marine Resources Authority, ARAP join the expedition.

From the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama:

New deep-water coral discovered

October 21, 2019

Summary: A new octocoral species was recently discovered in a biodiversity hotspot and World Heritage Site in Pacific Panama. It inhabits an unexplored and understudied marine ecosystem, under increasing need for protection: the mesophotic coral communities.

Pax, Latin for ‘peace’ made its way into the scientific name of a new coral discovered off Pacific Panama and described in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science. According to researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), the Centro de Investigacion en Ciencias del Mar y Limnologia at the University of Costa Rica (CIMAR) and collaborating institutions, it alludes to the need for making peace with nature and ending the devastation of the oceans.

Psammogorgia pax, collected at a depth of 63 meters (207 feet) in Hannibal Bank — a flat-topped seamount located in Coiba National Park, a biodiversity hotspot and World Heritage Site — , is part of an unexplored and understudied marine ecosystem: the mesophotic coral communities. These difficult-to-access habitats, found 40 — 150 meters deep and in-between shallow-water reefs and deep-water corals, are under increasing need for protection, yet little is known about their ecology and biodiversity.

Lately, submersibles have enabled marine scientists to explore these communities and collect samples, yielding a number of new octocoral species for the tropical eastern Pacific, including Adelogorgia hannibalis (2018), Thesea dalioi (2018) and Eugorgia siedenburgae (2013), all from the Hannibal Bank.

“Exploring the mesophotic zone and beyond has always been a challenge for scientists,” said Hector M. Guzman, STRI marine ecologist. “We need submersibles or remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) to search and collect specimens. Not always do we have access to these resources, but each time we go deep, we come up with something new.”

P. pax is a white and fan-shaped coral. The colony is made of microscopic bone-like calcium carbonate structures, called sclerites. The composition of sclerites is characteristic for this species and differentiates it from others in the same genus, like P. arbuscula, a common shallow-water species. Until now, eastern Pacific Psammogorgia species have only been reported in shallow waters down to 30 meters (98 feet) deep. However, the occurrence of the genus in deeper waters was expected.

“Because, apart from our personal observations, we have found specimens in museum collections belonging to Psammogorgia that are the result of historical expeditions that acquired these samples by dredging down to mesophotic depths,” said Odalisca Breedy, marine biologist at CIMAR and co-author of the study. “These specimens remain unidentified and have not been considered in any biodiversity assessments.”

The recent discovery and description of P. pax is a valuable contribution to understanding octocoral diversity in Panama, a major component of mesophotic and deep-water coral communities. Ultimately, increasing knowledge about these ecosystems will be essential for safeguarding their long-term conservation.

Meanwhile, the marine researchers remain concerned about the future of the Hannibal Bank seamount, whose rich biodiversity has only been recently explored. They consider that the area could benefit from stronger environmental and conservation protections.

“The management of this international protected seamount could be reinforced, as it faces heavy fishing pressure,” Guzman said. “The same goes for the rest of Panamanian seamounts that we haven’t explored yet for lack of resources.”

Coral species richness at different depths is unrelated to energy availability, according to a new study analysing diversity across an Australasian reef: here.

Corals fight back against global warming


This 2013 video is about Cladocora caespitosa coral in the Mediterranean.

From the University of Barcelona in Spain:

Survival strategy found in living corals which was only seen in fossil records

October 15, 2019

Some corals can recover after massive mortality episodes caused by the water temperature rise. This survival mechanism in the marine environment -known as rejuvenation- had only been described in some fossil corals so far. A new study published in the journal Science Advances reveals the first scientific evidence of the rejuvenation phenomenon in vivo in Cladocora caespitosa coral colonies, in the marine reserve in Columbrets, in the coast of Castellón (Spain).

The authors of the study are the experts Diego Kersting and Cristina Linares, from the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences from the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of the University of Barcelona.

Heatwaves, more and more common in Mediterranean

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most affected areas by climate change and the increase of heatwaves. “We are used to hear and read on the general impacts related to the climate change, but we rarely get news on the life recovery after impacts related to global warming,” says Diego Kersting, first author of the article and researcher at the Free University of Berlin (Germany).

Since 2002, Kersting and Linares have been monitoring 250 coral colonies of Cladocora caespitosa in the marine reserve in Columbrets, an area for studies on the effects of climate change on the marine environment. This coral -the only one able to create reefs in the Mediterranean Sea– is listed as an endangered species, mainly because of the mortalities associated with global warming.

Experts had described that the unusual rise of water temperature in summer was killing many of these Mediterranean coral colonies. For instance, during the summer of 2003, one of the hottest ones, “the 25% of the surface occupied by these corals in Columbrets disappeared due a loss of the colonies,” says the authors of the study.

Some coral polyps survive under extreme conditions

In a Mediterranean Sea with higher and higher temperatures and frequent heatwaves, the survival alarms for these species had already rang. However, the long-run monitoring of the coral in Columbrets revealed a surprising result: some coral colonies that were considered lost years ago show some living parts.

According to the experts, this kind of recuperation was possible thanks to a procedure named rejuvenation. In particular, under stress conditions -for instance, excessive water warming-, some polyps in the coral colonies which are dying are able to become smaller until they can abandon their calcareous skeleton.

In this reduced state, these polyps can survive under extreme conditions which cause the death of the other polyps in the colony. When conditions improve, polyps recover its common size and form a new calcareous skeleton. Afterwards, they reproduce by budding until the dead colony recovers.

A hidden survival strategy

According to the authors, this survival strategy had been unnoticed until now due the external good image the colonies show once they have recovered, which masks the mortality that had taken place before. “The real story of these colonies can only be found if controlled every year, over the years, or if we study the skeleton, since the process leaves characteristic features!, warn Kersting and Linares.

So far, researchers had found signs of this rejuvenation only in Paleozoic corals, which lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Therefore, the results of this study will enable making comparisons between the in vivo observations and the description through the fossils, and therefore knowing the implication of these kinds of survival processes and adaptation in corals.

This discovery provides new perspectives for the survival of the only reef coral in the Mediterranean, which has a slow growth -about 3 mm per year- and a limited ability to create new colonies. “However, it is hard for these mechanisms to balance the serious increase of the frequency and severity of the heatwaves in the Mediterranean, so it is necessary to act urgently in order to slow the causes of climate change, and dedicate enough resources to maintain these monitoring procedures in the long run,” warn the authors.

Threats to coral reefs are everywhere — rising water temperatures, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, fishing and other human activities. But new research shows that 3-D printed coral can provide a structural starter kit for reef organisms and can become part of the landscape as fish and coral build their homes around the artificial coral: here.

Global warming hurts, fish help, coral


This 2016 video is called 2 Hours of Beautiful Coral Reef Fish, Relaxing Ocean Fish, & Stunning Aquarium Relax Music 1080p HD.

From the Georgia Institute of Technology in the USA:

Warming impedes a coral defense, but hungry fish enhance it

October 2, 2019

Summary: Corals exude chemical defenses against bacteria, but when heated in the lab, those defenses lost much potency against a pathogen common in coral bleaching. There’s hope: A key coral’s defense was heartier when that coral was taken from an area where fishing was banned and plenty of fish were left to eat away seaweed that was overgrowing corals elsewhere.

Corals create potions that fight bacterial attackers, but warming appears to tip the scales against the potions as they battle a bacterium common in coral bleaching, according to a new study. Reef conservation may offer hope: A particular potion, gathered from reefs protected against seaweed overgrowth, proved more robust.

The protected Pacific reefs were populated by diverse corals and shimmered with colorful fish, said researchers who snorkeled off of Fiji to collect samples for the study. Oceanic ecologists from the Georgia Institute of Technology compared coral potions from these reefs, where fishing was prohibited, with those from heavily fished reefs, where seaweed inundated corals because few fish were left to eat it.

The medicated solutions, or potions, may contain a multitude of chemicals, and the researchers did not analyze their makeup. This is a possible next step, but here the researchers simply wanted to establish if the potions offered any real defense against pathogens and how warming and overfishing might weaken it.

Conservation matters

“I thought I probably wouldn’t see antibiotic effects from these washes. I was surprised to see such strong effects, and I was surprised to see that reef protections made a difference,” said the study’s first author, Deanna Beatty.

“There is a lot of argument now about whether local management can help in the face of global stresses — whether what a Fijian village does matters when people in London and Los Angeles burn fossil fuels to drive to work,” said Mark Hay, the study’s principal investigator, Regents Professor and Harry and Linda Teasley Chair in Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences.

“Our work indicates that local management provides a degree of insurance against global stresses, but there are likely higher temperatures that render the insurance ineffective.”

Adding heat

The researchers collected three coral species along with seawater surrounding each species at protected reefs and at overfished reefs. In their Georgia Tech lab, they tested their solutions against the pathogen Vibrio coralliilyticus at 24 degrees Celsius (75.2 Fahrenheit), an everyday Fijian water temperature, and at 28 degrees (82.4 F), common during ocean heating events.

“We chose Vibrio because it commonly infects corals, and it’s associated with coral bleaching in these warming events. It’s related to other bleaching pathogens and could serve as a model for them as well,” Hay said.

“We chose 24 C and 28 C because they’re representative of the variations you see on Fijian reefs these days. Those are temperatures where the bacteria are more benign or more virulent,” Beatty said.

The data showed that warming disadvantaged all potions against Vibrio and conservation aided a potion from a key coral species. The team, which included coauthor Kim Ritchie from the University of South Carolina Beaufort, published its study in the journal Science Advances on Oct. 2. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center, the National Science Foundation, and the Simons Foundation.

Deeper dive into the experiment

Seaweed hedges

The unprotected reefs’ shabby appearance portended their effects on the one potion associated with a key coral species.

“When you swim out of the no-fishing area and into the overfished area, you hit a hedge of seaweed. You have about 4 to 16% corals and 50 to 90% seaweed there. On the protected reef, you have less than 3% seaweed and about 60% corals,” Hay said.

Hay has researched marine ecology for over four decades and has seen this before, when coral reefs died off closer to home.

“Thirty years ago, when Caribbean reefs were vanishing, I saw overfishing as a big deal there, when seaweed took over,” he said, adding that global warming has become an overriding factor. “In the Pacific, many reefs that were not overfished have been wiped out in warming events. It just got too hot for too long.”

Distilling potion

The potions are products of the corals and associated microbes, which comprise a biological team called a holobiont.

To arrive at potions focused on chemical effects, the researchers agitated the coral holobionts and ocean water then freeze-dried and irradiated the resulting liquid to destroy remnants of life that could have augmented chemical action. Some viruses may have withstood sterilization, but it would have weakened any effect they may have had, if there were any.

Then the researchers tested the potions on Vibrio.

“All of the solutions’ defenses were compromised to varying extents at elevated temperatures where we see corals getting sick in the ocean,” Hay said.

But reef protection benefited the potion taken from the species Acropora millepora.

“The beneficial effect in the solution tested in the lab was better when Acropora came from protected areas, and this difference became more pronounced at 28 degrees Celsius,” said Beatty, who finished her Ph.D. with Hay and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Davis.

Acropora architecture

Of the three species with potions that were tested, Acropora millepora may be a special one.

It is part of a genus — larger taxonomic category — containing about 150 of the roughly 600 species in Pacific reefs, and Acropora are core builders of reef structures. They grow higher as sea level rises, helping maintain healthy positions for whole reefs.

“Acropora are big and branching and make lots of crevices where fish live. The evolution of lots of reef fish parallels the evolution of Acropora in particular,” Hay said.

If fish can hang on, they may buy Acropora more time, and coral reefs perhaps, too.

These researchers coauthored the study: Deanna Beatty, Jinu Valayil, Cody Clements, and Frank Stewart of Georgia Tech. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (grant 2 U19 TW007401-10), the National Science Foundation (grant OCE 717 0929119), the Simons Foundation (grant 346253), and the Teasley Endowment.

A new study revealed a more complex view than current standard predictions of coral bleaching events caused primarily by heat stress; rather, the scientists found that bleaching is driven by a variety of stressors, and each region responds differently: here.

Predators, good for other Bahamas reef fish


This 2017 video says about itself:

Inside the Struggle to Save an Endangered Grouper Species | National Geographic

Follow dedicated wildlife authorities in Belize as they strive to protect the endangered Nassau grouper.

From North Carolina State University in the USA:

Predators and hidey-holes are good for reef fish populations

October 1, 2019

New research highlights two factors that play a critical role in supporting reef fish populations and — ultimately — creating conditions that are more favorable for the growth of both coral reefs and seagrass.

“Previous work has shown mixed results on whether the presence of large predator species benefits reef fish populations, but we found that the presence of Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) had an overall positive effect on fish abundance,” says Enie Hensel, a former Ph.D. student at North Carolina State University and lead author of a paper on the work. “We also found that habitat complexity benefits both fish abundance and species richness, likely because it gives fish a larger variety of places to shelter.” This is consistent with previous work.

“One of the surprises here was that the effect of predator presence on fish abundance was comparable to the effect of habitat complexity,” Hensel says.

To better understand the effect of these variables, researchers constructed 16 artificial “patch” reefs in shallow waters off the coast of Great Abaco Island in The Bahamas. Eight of the reefs consisted of cement-filled cinder blocks, mimicking degraded reefs with limited habitat complexity. The remaining eight reefs consisted of unfilled cinder blocks and branching pipe structures, mimicking the more complex physical environment of healthier reefs.

Once in place, the researchers waited for groupers to move in and claim the new reef territory. The groupers were large juveniles, ranging in size from 16-33 centimeters. The researchers then removed the groupers from four of the degraded reef sites and from four of the complex reef sites. Groupers that were removed were relocated to distant reefs.

Researchers monitored the sites for 60 days to ensure that the grouper-free reefs remained free of groupers. At the end of the 60 days, the researchers assessed the total number of fish at each reef site, as well as the total number of fish species at each site.

The differences were significant.

Fish abundance, or the total number of fish, was highest at sites that had both a resident grouper and complex habitat. Abundance at these sites ranged from 275 fish to more than 500 — which is remarkable given that each reef was less than a meter long in any direction. By comparison, sites that had simple structures and no grouper had fewer than 50 fish on average. Simple structures with predators had around 75 fish, while complex sites without grouper had around 100.

“We think the presence of the grouper drives away other predators, which benefits overall fish abundance,” Hensel says. “And a complex habitat offers niches of various sizes and shapes, which can shelter more and different kinds of fish than a degraded, simple habitat.”

The presence of grouper had little or no effect on species richness, or the number of different species present at each site. However, habitat complexity made a significant difference. Complex sites had 11-13 species, while degraded sites had around seven.

“We found that the sites with complex habitats and the presence of predators had fish populations that were actually larger than what we see at surrounding, similar-sized natural reefs,” Hensel says. “That’s because the natural reefs in the area are all degraded due to a variety of stressors.

“We also found that the presence of grouper on complex reefs led to a significant jump in the population of Tomtate grunts (Haemulon aurolineatum),” Hensel says. “That’s good news, because Tomtates are a species that provides a lot of ecosystem services, which would be good for creating conditions that are more amenable to both coral reef growth and seagrass growth.

“Currently, my colleagues and I are building from these findings in two directions. We’re measuring long-term community and ecosystem level responses to coral restoration or the reintroduction of structurally complex habitat; and we are also measuring long-term biological and physiological responses of fishes residing on restored reefs. For the latter, Haley Gambill, an undergraduate at NC State, is measuring changes in the age and growth of grunts.

“It’s also worth noting that this is an area that was hit hard by Hurricane Dorian. Because we’ve done so much reef population work in that area, I’m hoping to return to do some work that can help us understand how extreme weather events can affect these ecosystems.”

The work was done with support from the National Science Foundation under grants 0746164 and 1405198.