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Recently discovered deep-sea reefs catch the attention of the drug discovery team

Researchers have always had an inkling regarding the presence of deep reefs between Miami and Bimini, when bits of reef-building corals were brought out using// the surface-operated dredge and grab sampling equipment. But due to inadequate mapping of most parts of the ocean, these crucial areas remained under cover.

In December of 2005, as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Ocean Exploration program, University of Miami researchers, led by geophysicist Mark Grasmueck and geologist Gergor Eberli, began mapping deepwater habitats off Miami and Bimini using an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) equipped with advanced sonar technology. AUVs operate without a tether to the surface and are pre-programmed to independently perform tasks. AUVs have been frequently used in oil exploration and also in a variety of other research programs for mapping purposes, but the Miami researchers believe this is the first time an AUV has been used to map deepwater coral reefs.

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. Aft
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