The sea depths hide many sea creatures that have not yet been described. Every expedition into the depths of the ocean is an adventure that helps to discover the life that is hidden from us. Marine scientists aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor have identified likely new marine species and deep-sea organisms on nine seamounts that were explored for the first time in the remote Phoenix Islands Archipelago. In a 34-day expedition that ended today, scientists also conducted high-resolution seafloor mapping of more than 30,000 square kilometers and video exploration of five additional seamounts.

The expedition discovered many important data

“It has been very inspiring to help document the biodiversity of unexplored seamounts on the high seas and in U.S. waters, ”said the expedition Chief Scientist Dr. Randi Rotjan of Boston University. “We’re at the beginning of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, so now is the time to think about conservation broadly across all oceanscapes, and the maps, footage, and data we have collected will hopefully help to inform policy and management in decision making around new high seas protected areas. ”

During the expedition, there was a rare observation of a glass octopus. chmidt Ocean Institute’s underwater robot SuBastian also captured footage for the first time of a rare whale shark, a deep-water species that dates back millions of years and whose name comes from its length of more than 40 feet.

Team of scientists offered new insights into the no-take marine protected area, which includes the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the Howland and Baker islands. The expedition provided a more complete picture of the whole ecosystem of the region and how the habitats of the submarine mountains are connected.

A small squat lobster sits on a golden coral in the deep ocean on a previously unexplored guyot seamount in international Pacific Ocean waters.

Research of coral and sponge

Sea corals and sponges were mainly studied. A number of experiments were performed to find out how sea corals and sponges react to different microbial stimuli. The research team managed to create the largest collection of deep-sea microbial cultures from the Central Pacific Ocean.

On the expedition’s first ROV dive, this striking and clear example of corallivory was photographed: a predator eating coral mucus, tissue, even the skeleton of a coral. Here a corallivorous deep-sea sea star Evoplosoma eats live precious coral (Corallium) at a depth of 2004m on a previously unexplored ABNJ seamount (Area Beyond National Jurisdiction). While many seamounts and shoals are located in national waters, many others fall in ABNJ locations, with no current legal status per se. Many deep-sea researchers believe it is essential that protection measures are instigated under an internationally-recognized legal and institution framework to preserve the biodiversity and habitats there.

New information help in modern medical research

The results of the experiments brought many important new findings. This knowledge will help in modern medical research in the field of cancer immunotherapies, drug delivery and improved vaccine efficacy.

“The Ocean holds wonders and promises we haven’t even imagined, much less discovered,” said Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute. “Expeditions like these teach us why we need to increase our efforts to restore and better understand marine ecosystems everywhere–because the great chain of life that begins in the ocean is critical for human health and wellbeing.”

(L-R) Alexis Weinnig (a research scientist with the US Geological Survey) and Tim Shank (deep-sea biologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) examine a deep-sea shrimp collected during a recent dive of the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) SuBastian.

“The coverage of this expedition was remarkable–we found changes in species across depth and geography around the Pacific equator and in the suite of organisms living on corals,” said Dr. Tim Shank, biologist at the Woods HoIe Oceanographic Institution. “Looking into these deep-sea communities has altered the way we think about how organisms live and interact on seamounts and how they maintain diversity of life in the deep ocean.”

“Working with scientists and local researchers, this expedition is a remarkable example of the frontiers of science and exploration that we are able to support,” said Dr. Jyotika Virmani, executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute. “Live-streaming the dives gives us a glimpse of rarely seen and fascinating creatures such as the transparent glass octopus. By providing this platform to further the understanding of our ocean, we trigger the imagination while helping to push forward scientific insights and the protection of our underwater world.”


Chief scientist Randi Rotjan of Boston University and Steve Auscavitch, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology at Boston University, watch the live video feed from the ROV SuBastian as they conduct the first ROV dive on a previously unmapped and unexplored seamount in one of the worldÕs many Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).
Crew members aboard the Research Vessel Falkor direct the first launch of the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) SuBastian during the “Discovering Deep Sea Corals of the Phoenix Islands 2” expedition. SuBastian initially descended to 2,200 meters to observe deep-sea corals around a previously unmapped and unexplored seamount in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
An aerial image of Research Vessel Falkor sailing in US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters while working on unexplored and unnamed seamounts on the Tokelau Ridge in the Phoenix Islands Archipelago.
Beautiful image of a metalagorgia coral with brittle star entwined, and possible egg case. The image was made at 1450 meters depth on an unnamed seamount in the Winslow reef complex on the Tokelau Ridge in the Phoenix Islands Archipelago by Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) SuBastian.
(L-R) Anna Gauthier (Harvard University) and Anameere Tennaba (Brigham Young University-Hawaii) sample the gut contents of a hippasteris sea star observed predating on a coral to better understand the microbial community that lives inside the animal.
A Pink precious coral (Hemicorallium) spreads its beautiful fan to catch nutrients that drift on deep ocean currents. Photographed by Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) SuBastian on a previously unexplored guyot seamount in international Pacific Ocean waters.
A ghostly primnoid coral is covered in brittle stars that use the coralsÕ structure to gather nutrients from the water currents. An Iridigorgia and bamboo corals can be seen in the background. Photograph made by ROV SuBastian, just north the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) in the Phoenix Archipelago.

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