The Beacon

Exploring Uncharted Territory off Oregon's Coast

Vibrant gorgonian corals near Cape Arago, Oregon. © Oceana

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: On their final day in Oregon, the crew ventures into uncharted territory and finds a variety of corals and fish.

Oregon Leg, Day 5

Friday was our last day aboard the R/V Miss Linda and it could not have been a better day for working on the ocean. We left the Charleston Marina at 7 AM bound for the nearshore reef south of Cape Arago and west of Seven Devils State Park. 

As we were working in and out of Charleston today, we invited guests to join our expedition including Dr. Craig Young, the director of the University of Oregon’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology and Dr. Jan Hodder from the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.

The University of Oregon has been operating marine studies in the Charleston area since 1924 with year-round research programs beginning in 1966. Dr. Young and his graduate students have made hundreds of deep dives in submersibles and sailed on oceanographic ships in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Yet surprisingly, nobody has ever been to the areas we went Friday with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and underwater camera.

Our first dive with the ROV was at a shallow 30 meters. The ROV descended down large rock walls and crevices covered with invertebrates. Schools of black rockfish, mixed with China, quillback and juvenile yelloweye glided over the rocky edges and boulders.

Over the course of the day we progressively dove deeper and deeper. We completed five dives in total and our deepest dive, at 300 feet, was seven miles offshore. As we moved to deeper waters, we saw a change in the seafloor substrate from high relief rock, to small boulders, cobble, sand and heavy silt.

In the low relief areas there were fields of sponges, gorgonian corals, crinoids and brittle stars. On top of the occasional boulder, basket stars gracefully positioned themselves in the current to sweep plankton out of the water column. This area is unquestionably highly diverse, productive, and teeming with life.

Dr. Young commented that our work today produced a better glimpse of the ocean in this area off Oregon than we’ve had in 100 years. 

An ROV mounted with high definition cameras is a powerful tool to document areas too deep or too rugged to reach by scuba. We made full use of it completing 17 dives over the last five days and collecting hours upon hours of video in areas never seen before. 

The data we collected during this expedition will make a valuable contribution to marine science. And we hope the images will inspire the public and government to protect these areas and the marine life that live here for generations to come.

 


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