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Fieldwork

USGS Researchers Lead a Collaborative Effort for Further Investigation of the Deep Coral Reef at Pulley Ridge


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On June 22, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other organizations departed on the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO) research vessel Suncoaster to revisit what has been determined to be the continental United States' deepest known hermatypic (reef-building) coral community, situated on the southwest edge of the western Florida shelf (see Sound Waves article, "Coral Reef Off Florida Determined to be Deepest Known on U.S. Continental Shelf"). Interest in this unique deep-water ecosystem launched a multidisciplinary flotilla of research vessels:

  • the Suncoaster, which carried a one-person submersible and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV);
  • the Bellows (FIO), which performed geophysical surveys;
  • the Tiburon (Ocean Outreach, Inc.), which provided a base for deep-water scientific divers; and
  • the Irene C (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA]), which served as the support vessel.

This expedition made it possible to use multiple tools and technologies to conduct new investigations of the southern area of coral growth and to explore other benthic habitats in the region.

photo of deep-water divers at Pulley Ridge wire coral
Above Left: Deep-water divers explore and photograph the benthic community at Pulley Ridge. Photograph by Tim Taylor (captain of the research vessel Tiburon). [larger version]

Above Right: Deep-diver photograph shows wire coral, Cirrhipathes leutkeni, growing over typical live bottom at Pulley Ridge. Photograph by Tim Taylor. [larger version]

Dubbed the "Miracle Cruise" by chief scientist Robert Halley (USGS, St. Petersburg, FL), the expedition represented intense efforts to combine the resources and experience of knowledgeable organizations. Participants included researchers from FIO, NOAA, and Mote Marine Laboratory, as well as experts from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi. Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (DOER) Inc. was also a notable contributor, supplying the DeepWorker single-person submersible that proved to be invaluable for data collection. Even the National Geographic Society was involved, when Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle (who is also the founder and chairman of DOER) joined the group to lead a team of submariners.

Deep-diver photograph of live bottom at Pulley Ridge shows two species of Agaricia coral growing with the green alga Ventricaria ventricosa. Testing the DeepWorker submersible from the research vessel Suncoaster in Bayboro Harbor before departure. Bob Halley holds a large sample of Anadyomene menziesii collected by the deep-diver team.
Above Left: Deep-diver photograph of live bottom at Pulley Ridge shows two species of Agaricia coral growing with the green alga Ventricaria ventricosa. Photograph by Tim Taylor. [larger version]

Above Center: Testing the DeepWorker submersible from the research vessel Suncoaster in Bayboro Harbor before departure. Photograph by George Guthro (assistant engineer on the Suncoaster). [larger version]

Above Right: Bob Halley holds a large sample of Anadyomene menziesii collected by the deep-diver team. Photograph by Dave Guggenheim. [larger version]

During the 10-day expedition, the research vessel Suncoaster launched six submersible dives, each lasting an average of 3 hours, and explored 10 ROV sites, despite some rough weather and an extremely strong current at the southern study area. On day 5, June 27, exploration at an ROV site north of the established coral zone revealed an intriguing area filled with dense patches of small calcareous tubeworms. None of the researchers had seen this type of tubeworm colony before, which made for an exciting find and a cruise highlight. On day 7, June 29, deep divers used mixed-gas technology and closed-circuit rebreathers to meet DeepWorker at depths greater than 65 m, coordinating the sampling efforts. The divers' ability to collect specific and fragile samples in such a remote environment was an invaluable addition to the expedition. Samples included hard corals, sponges, invertebrates, micromollusks, coralline algae, and red, brown, and green algae.

The research vessel Bellows team, working to the north, found ancient submerged shorelines at water depths of approximately 90, 80, and 70 m. These shoreline features harbor communities that consist of sponges, black corals, ahermatypic (non-reef-building) stony and soft corals, coralline algae, bryozoans, and mollusks. Dredged rock samples are suspected to be cemented oolitic grainstone and have been sent out for thin sections to confirm this identification.

Expedition participants included Bob Halley and Kate Ciembronowicz (USGS, St. Petersburg, FL); Dann Blackwood and Richard Rendigs (USGS, Woods Hole, MA), operating the ROV; G.P. Schmahl (NOAA), manager of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary; David Guggenheim (Harte Research Institute); Sylvia Earle (National Geographic Society, DOER Inc., Harte Research Institute); James Culter (Mote Marine Laboratory); Bret Jarrett, Al Hine, Beau Suthard (University of South Florida); and Ian Griffith, leading the DOER engineering team.

Pulley Ridge is a series of north-south-trending drowned barrier islands stretching more than 100 km along the southwestern Florida shelf. At its southern part, the ridge hosts an unusual variety of zooxanthellate scleractinian corals, algae, and typically shallow-water tropical fishes not common to that depth or its low-light conditions.

For more information, see the Pulley Ridge Web site.


Related Sound Waves Stories
Coral Reef Off Florida Determined to be Deepest Known on U.S. Continental Shelf
February 2005
USGS Scientist Addresses the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
September 2003
USGS Scientists Use the SeaBOSS to Explore What Could Be the Deepest Coral Reef in the Continental United States
July 2003
USGS Scientists Team Up with National Geographic's Sustainable Seas Expedition to Explore Deep Reefs at Pulley Ridge
August 2001

Related Web Sites
Pulley Ridge Web site
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
RV Suncoaster
Florida Institute of Oceanography
RV Bellows
Florida Institute of Oceanography
DeepWorker Submersible
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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in this issue: Fieldwork
Cover Story:
Locating Surf Scooter Nests in the Northern Boreal Forest

Further Investigation of Deep Coral Reef

Sea Otters 2005 Survey Numbers Dip

Outreach Ground Water Institute for Teachers

ISIS Group Visits USGS Woods Hole

USGS Scientists Address International Visitors

Meetings Suwannee River Basin and Estuary Integrated Science Workshop

USGS-NOAA Symposium

Publications New Fact Sheet About Landslides and Cliff Retreat

August Publications List


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