The mission also discovered a "coral graveyard" covering about 10,000 square feet on a seamount's summit, more than 2,000 feet deep. Scientists estimated the death of the community occurred several thousand to potentially more than a million years ago, but did not know why the community died. The species of coral had never been recorded in Hawaii before, according a Smithsonian Institution coral expert they consulted.
Finding new species was not an express purpose of the research mission, but Dunbar and Christopher Kelley, a scientist with the University of Hawaii, both collected specimens that looked unusual. Kelley's objective was to locate and predict locations of high density deep-sea coral beds in the Monument. NOAA scientist Frank Parrish also led a portion of the mission, focusing on growth rates of deep-sea corals.
The three-week research mission ended in November 2007, but analysis of specimens is ongoing. "The potential for more discoveries is high, but these deep-sea corals are not protected everywhere as they are here, and can easily be destroyed," said Kelley.
The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument has more deep water than any other U.S. protected area, with more than 98 percent below SCUBA-diving depths and only accessible to submersibles. The Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, sponsored by NOAA and the University of Hawaii, piloted the Pisces V submersible from a research vessel to the discovery sites, between 3300 and 4200 feet deep.
|Contact: Christine Patrick|