Expedition update: Tijou Reef

Quite a milestone today for the Catlin Deep Reef team: we have just processed our three thousandth coral sample! Each sample is a small piece taken off a coral colony by the ROV robot or our diver scientists. Luckily most corals are actually colonies of thousands of small polyps so if you gently take only a small piece then the colony recovers; so we don't have to actually kill anything to do our work. Once the coral sample is taken and returned to the surface our processing team goes to work. Firstly the specimen is tagged and any data or associated photographs recorded. Then a small sub-sample is taken for genetics analysis- basically a piece the size of a few rice grains is sufficient. Some samples are also taken for reproduction and symbiont studies. Symbionts are the microscopic algae that live within the tissues of the corals - part of a fantastic strategy that gives corals their own built-in solar power plant, something which has been so successful it has allowed corals to build some of the largest living structures on earth. The reproduction samples will be used for histology- the coral tissues are embedded in a special wax and then extremely fine slices of the tissue taken- finer than a human hair - they allow us to basically peer into the inner workings of the coral. From these sections we can tell when and how the deep reef corals reproduce - something which has been quite unknown to science to date. So, as soon as we finish processing for the day the celebrations will begin; although I suspect they will be a little muted and everyone will be more keen on catching up on some well-earned sleep!