Scientists and engineers used an autonomous underwater vehicle and imaging platform called SeaBED during a first-of-its-kind study to determine the health of deepwater coral reefs and related spawning areas for commercial fisheries. While recent reports indicate shallow reefs in the Caribbean and around the world are threatened, this new study found well-developed deeper water coral reefs with nearly 100 percent living coral cover, highly unusual in the Caribbean where disease, pollution, land run-off and other factors have caused widespread coral mortality in shallower reefs in the past few decades. Until now, little information was available on the structure and composition of the deeper coral reefs due to the depths of these insular shelf reefs, which are beyond the safe range of SCUBA diving at 90 to 200 feet deep and some 10 miles from land.
Two reef areas, the Marine Conservation District Hind Bank and the South Drop, were surveyed in June south of St. Thomas and St. John in the US Virgin Islands by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientist Hanumant Singh, graduate students Chris Roman and Ryan Eustice, and postdoctoral investigator Ali Can in collaboration with Roy Armstrong of the University of Puerto Rico and observer Liane Guild of NASA Ames Research Center. Scientists from the University of the Virgin Islands (USVI), the Department of Planning and Natural Resources of the USVI, and the Caribbean Fishery Management Council (CFMC) also assisted with the study.
The project was funded by the National Science Foundation with additional support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and CFMC, which is responsible for protecting marine habitats in waters beyon
Contact: Shelley Dawicki
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution