Searching for Black Corals: the exploration of Isole Tremiti MPA

Latest update February 23, 2019 Started on April 1, 2018

The project concerns the black coral Antipathella subpinnata, a very important habitat former of the mesophotic environment in the Mediterranean Sea. This species forms true underwater animal forests, hosting a huge biodiversity. Notwithstanding, the distribution of A. subpinnata is scantly known in the basin. This is particularly true at Isole Tremiti Marine Protected Area (Adriatic Sea), where a garden of this species is likely to be present but not yet explored. The exploration of the mesophotic environment of this area would help to assess the distribution of this species, in order to manage and protect it, even more so considering that it is inside a National Park! The scientific research ongoing will be the subject of a documentary, directed by Flavio Oliva. Moreover, a book containing the information about the exploration and the results obtained will be published. Stay tuned!

April 1, 2018
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In The Field

After a huge explorative effort we finally found a large coral forest at Tremiti Islands. Many hundreds of colonies of the black coral Antipathella subpinnata, never known before, were observed through the ROV. It is one of the best coral population I’ve personally ever seen. Just imagine that the laser pointers give us a scale of ca. 20 cm.

Then I saw some movements, I stopped the motors of the ROV and... enjoy what happens! Do we need more proofs about the great importance of these forests for the marine biodiversity?

(Personal suggestion: watch the video with the Jurassic Park soundtrack in background, because our mood was exactly the one when Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler see the dinosaurs for the first time!)

That's brilliant! Can't wait to see more! How deep was that? What was the fish species? Some kind of Jack? Hard to tell watching on my phone.
Hi Matt, thank you! The forest is in this video is 70 m in depth, but it develops from 52 to 80 m depth.The large school of jacks is of the Greater Amberjack (Seriola dumerili)… considering the laser beams, they were more or less specimens larger than 1 m. Watch it on a pc with full screen! :)
Cool! I'll check it on a big screen for sure later on. Our project hopes to go in search of fish nests in deeper waters if we are lucky to qualify for a Trident. Please follow us to see what other surprises we might unearth.
Great work guys! It is amazing to see these coral species in more temperate waters. The deeper parts of reefs are so amazing, but we don't know enough about their structures and functions. However, for exploring these habitats for over 3 years now, I can tell they are crucial for many marine species, including the ones that we encounter in the shallows. They definitely need to be included into conservation plans!
Hi Alexis, thank you! In the mesophotyc environment of the Mediterranean Sea we are finding some very interesting coral populations of great ecological importance. We are trying to make them somehow protected!
Hi Giovanni - what lasers did you attach to your ROV out of interest?

Thanks to the S.E.E. Initiative, the new Trident ROV arrived to support us! The first test in shallow waters already revealed some very tiny encounters!

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Awesome! Excited to be following along!

Exploration is often a matter of patience, good sense of timing, and stubbornness, spending hours and hours watching a bare sea bottom. But sometimes things changes… Guess what’s the tree-like white thingy in the picture?
In this case, the two laser beams are a scale reference of 15 cm and you can see a couple of black coral colonies. Yes, they are white when they are living, while the name black coral is due to their dark black skeleton... A true coral forest is about to be revealed!

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Meet part of the team in the group photos below. From the left: Elisabetta Carfagna (officially Sound Technician, unofficially big sister), Flavio Oliva (officially director and cameraman, unofficially handyman), Gianluca Saccotelli (officially technician, unofficially runner and helper), Francesco Mastrototaro (officially Professor in Zoology, unofficially cook and spiritual guide), Adelmo Sorci (officially diving instructor, unofficially SCUBA angel) and Giovanni Chimienti (officially Principal Investigator of the project, unofficially factotum).
On the boat: Giovanni Chimienti, Francesco Mastrototaro, Marco D’Onghia (officially technician, unofficially second camera) and Elisabetta Carfagna. Each one with their own tasks, all of them freaky SCUBA divers!

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The comfort onboard is essential!
Thanks to Valerio Sorci for capturing these moments.

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Do you think that our ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) has enough cameras, headlights and lasers?
Hope there is not a ROV syndacate, because our guy is working too hard!


Waiting for the incredible exploration we are doing in Tremiti, here you can enjoy some of the big deep-sea creatures we observed in the Adriatic and Ionian Seas in the last years, thanks to the different research projects carried out from the Department of Biology - University of Bari (Italy).
A benthic lander and some good fishes makes us able to assert that the deep-sea is something more than a desert bare of life! Hope you will like the inhabitants of our deep-sea... Stay tuned and join the Dark Side!

Part of the fieldwork and exploration has been done this summer at Tremiti Archipelago, with ROV surveys and deep diving samplings! Soon you will see some exclusive preview!
We will be back in the next months for further ROV surveys both on shallow and deep-sea! Stay tuned!

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Expedition Background

Antipatharians, commonly known as black corals, are among the most common azooxanthellate corals of tropical reefs, where they can create very rich and peculiar marine habitats. Black coral aggregations are among the so-called animal forests, since arborescent colonies can create a marine environment whose three-dimensionality is comparable to that one of forests on land. Black corals are also present in temperate and polar waters with fewer species and, in unique habitats, they may be found with very high abundances.
In the Mediterranean Sea, 5 antipatharian species have been described to date. Among these, Antipathella subpinnata Ellis and Solander, 1786 (Family Myriopathidae) is the most common within the basin. It is considered a near-endemic species of the Mediterranean Sea, with only few (and sometimes doubtful) records outside this basin. It usually settles on hard substrate, and it is characterized by a branched corallum with simple elongated pseudopinnules arranged irregularly in one to four rows. This species, firstly reported as “Least Concern” in the IUCN Red List, has been recently classified as “Near Threatened” because of new data about such important habitat former. In fact, A. subpinnata is a protected species listed in several directives and protocols (e.g., CITES, SPA/BD Protocol, ASPIM, Berna Convention etc.), whose importance has been recognized worldwide. In contrast with such international acknowledged importance, the distribution of this species in the Mediterranean Sea is still scarcely known and the first (and last) update of its presence goes back to a decade ago. For this reason, the present project is focused on the exploration of a new area characterized by the presence of A. subpinnata and the update of its distribution within the Mediterranean Sea. The new area worthy to be explored is Isole Tremiti Marine Protected Area (MPA), in the Southern Adriatic Sea. Despite belonging to a MPA, the twilight rocky environment around Tremiti Islands has not yet exhaustively explored. Antipathella subpinnata has been observed in the area with few shallow colonies (see photo below; photo: Adelmo Sorci, Marlin Tremiti). We think that a garden of A. subpinnata is present there, and the main objective of the exploration is to find and document the presence of a black coral garden in the area.


Really excited to follow your work, Giovanni! :)

My pleasure, Madeleine! :)

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