The Beacon

Blog Tags: Deep Sea Corals

Video: Exploring Vampire Squid, Corals, and Siphonophores in the Gulf of Mexico

A portuguese man-of-war (Physalia physalis)

A portuguese man-of-war (Physalia physalis), a relative of the the siphonophore spotted by the Nautilus Expedition team. (Photo: 4Neus / Flickr Creative Commons)

When you hear about marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, your first thoughts probably turn to sea turtles, shellfish, and brown pelicans. The Gulf is, of course, much richer in biodiversity than that short list, and home to other species like whale sharks and manatees. But, one research program is looking beyond these charismatic species of the Gulf, and recently captured unprecedented footage of marine life near some of the Gulf’s less-well-known habitat like caves and deep sea corals.


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Stand Up for the Deep

(Photo: Oceana in Europe)

Deep ocean species grow slowly and produce few offspring, making them very vulnerable to overfishing. But the European Union fleet in the North-East Atlantic fishes down to depths of 1,500 meters, using bottom-fishing gear that destroys thousand-year-old corals and sponge beds. Even more worrying, up to 80 percent of trawl catches are discarded and thrown away.


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International Talks Underway to Protect North Pacific

Paragorgia coral, aka bubblegum coral, at the Pratt seamount. © NOAA

The U.S. government is nearing the conclusion of international negotiations for the management of fisheries on the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean. These quiet talks have been ongoing since April 2006 and are likely to conclude this week, which has huge implications for the oceans and Oceana’s work in the region.

Oceana has been participating in these meetings as a member of the U.S. delegation since 2007. Oceana’s Pacific Project Manager, Ben Enticknap, is at this week’s meeting in Vancouver, Canada, working to expand Oceana’s approach to freeze the footprint of bottom trawling and protect important ecological areas to international waters.

The negotiations are between the U.S., Canada, Japan, Russia, China, Korea and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) and are seeking to establish a new fishery management organization to sustainably manage fisheries on the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean, as well as to establish interim measures to protect “vulnerable marine ecosystems” like seamounts, deep-sea corals, sponges and hydrothermal vents from destructive fishing practices.


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Deep-sea Corals Caught in Plume’s Way

Deep-sea coral community of West Flower Garden Bank in the Northwest Gulf of Mexico. (NOAA image.)

The most familiar victims of the oil spill are the ones with faces: birds, sea turtles, dolphins, whales.

But as the New York Times reports today, there are at least three extensive deep-sea coral reefs lying directly beneath the oil slick in the gulf. And coral reefs can’t swim or fly away from the plumes of partly dispersed oil spreading in the deep sea.

Both oil and dispersants are toxic to corals and have been found to impede the ability of corals to grow and reproduce, and the effects are amplified when they are mixed, which may be the case with these plumes.

It’s unknown exactly how sensitive deep-sea corals are to oil and dispersants, though as Oceana’s Pacific science director Jeffrey Short told the Times, “It might be locally catastrophic, particularly if there’s an oxygen-depleted mass that develops.”


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