On a scientific expedition, you never know what may happen. Today we found out that the hyperbaric chamber in Bermuda, which we need on stand-by whenever the scientific divers in our deep reef research team are working, will not be operational for the next two days. Last minute changes throw any carefully planned expedition itinerary out the window, so our scientists will use the time to get familiar with the Bermudian reef and liaise with local scientific experts.
If you have ever been snorkelling on a coral reef, you have probably seen the brightly coloured coral of a shallow reef system, which can grow 30 metres below the sea surface. The deep reef research team from the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, are in Bermuda to document corals growing 30 to 70 metres under the water or to depths where light-dependent corals (so corals that still harbour photosynthetic pigments) stop occurring. Nicknamed the 'twilight zone', for the dwindling amount of light that reaches these depths, the deep reef is logistically challenging to reach, so many regions remain unexplored.
Lead by Dr Pim Bongaerts, the deep reef research team will use a small underwater robot (called a Remotely Operated Vehicle - ROV) in combination with skilled scientific divers to conduct video surveys, collect coral samples and deploy temporary temperature loggers at previously unexplored deep reef sites. The scientific divers dive to depths of 40 metres, and the ROV is used to explore depths from 50-100 metres. The ROV allows for far longer bottom times and deeper exploration depths than can be achieved by divers alone.
In the next few days, the deep reef research team will use the ROV to scout the local area for potential research sites. Then, when the hyperbaric chamber is working again, the team will dive-in for a closer look. Dr Pim Bongaerts is working closely with local experts from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS), the Bermuda Reef Ecosystem Assessment and Mapping Programme (BREAM) and the Bermuda Natural History Museum, so that any findings by The Catlin Seaview Survey will add to the local knowledge of deep reef coral in this area.