Miami's December AUV work revealed what appears to be an extensive system of steep slopes and mounds as high as 350 feet, all of which are likely to harbor a wide array of sponges, corals, fish, and other animals. A camera developed at the University of Miami allowed researchers to get an enticing glimpse of the bottom, but until researchers make it to the seafloor in the submersible they will not be able to determine the extent and biological diversity of the newly discovered reefs. Harbor Branch has discovered a number of other new deepwater reefs in Florida waters in recent years that play important ecological roles, but has never before had the chance to explore this area.
From May 22-26, the team will be working at sites on the Bahamas side of the Straits of Florida, about 10 miles from Bimini. From May 27-30 they will be on the Florida side, beginning about 20 miles out from Miami, though all the reefs are part of the same geological system. After a quick personnel and equipment turnaround, Harbor Branch researchers will return to the Miami area on a separate expedition from May 31 to June 9 to conduct the first in depth survey of deep reef areas in the region to better assess the ecological importance of the reefs and to identify factors responsible for their incredible diversity.
Researchers typically have to spend hours using a ship depth sounder to map an area before determining where to do submersible dives because maps detailed enough to show the telltale mounds and other features of deepwater reefs simply do not exist for the bulk of the seafloor. With such little information available, Grasmueck compares typical seafloor exploration to arriving on the bottom of the Grand Canyon at night with a flashlight and then attempting to ascertain the significance and topography of the whole canyon based on small swaths revealed by the flashlight. The Miami AUV work has instead made it possible to choose div
Source:Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution