COURTESY OF HAWAII UNDERSEA RESEARCH LABORATORY / R. GRIGG & S. KAHNG
A team of researchers will study deep-water coral in the Auau Channel between Maui and Lanai over the next three years with a $1.4 million National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant.
Feds pay polyp service to coral
A grant will fund a study of deep-water reefs in isle waters
A team of Hawaii-based scientists will use a $1.4 million federal grant to study deep-water corals in the Auau Channel between Maui and Lanai over the next three years.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced yesterday that the grant will go to a team of researchers from the Bishop Museum, the University of Hawaii departments of plant biology and geology, the state Division of Aquatic Resources and NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.
The coral habitats to be examined are in water 100 to 300 feet deep. Most corals live at depths down to 40 feet, NOAA project scientist John Rooney said.
"We know very little about deep coral reefs," agreed Tony Montgomery, a state aquatic biologist. "We want to document as many species as we can" and learn about all the plants and animals that live in and around the coral, he said.
Montgomery and Bishop Museum fish expert Richard Pyle are the principal investigators for the project, which will involve submersibles from the Hawaii Undersea Research Lab and deep-water dives to explore the coral reefs.
"We're pretty excited about it," Rooney said. "It's an understudied phenomenon."
NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher said in a release, "The technological advances in unmanned remote vehicles give researchers the chance to gain new insights into how these deeper coral ecosystems function and their importance in the broader effort to protect coral reefs."
Among the hypotheses the scientists will test, Montgomery said, is whether the deep-water corals act as a kind of refuge for fish
and other sea animals of the shallow reefs to replenish, undisturbed by humans.
The corals are found at depths lower than recreational scuba divers go, he said.
Montgomery spotted the deep-water stony corals several years ago while scouting for black coral, a precious coral that is harvested from the Auau Channel.
Rooney said the discovery "raised the questions: How much is out there? What are these corals? Are there more reefs, and what's their role within the entire larger coral reef ecosystem?"
"The coalition of partners that will be exploring Hawaii's deep-sea corals with today's grant funding mirrors the diversity of the natural ecosystem, and it is my hope that cooperative efforts like this will form a firm foundation for community members to work together in the future," U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said in the NOAA release.