Down the Wall: exploring the deep coral reef of the Turks and Caicos IslandsLatest update June 11, 2019 Started on March 29, 2019
We want to map and explore the unexplored deep coral reef walls (30-100m depth) of the Turks and Caicos Islands. With an underwater drone we will collect footage for 3D reef models and determine if disturbances affect these reefs.
Our expedition got approved and we are very exciting to soon explore our reef wall with our new underwater drone.
But why do we want to explore our deep coral reef?
Deep coral reefs (Mesophotic coral ecosystems), those located between 30 and 80-150 m depth, are ecosystems in dire need of more exploration. We know that their rich flora and fauna community forms a productive marine ecosystem and that some of the species are endemic. But there is so much we do not know yet about deep coral reefs. We do not understand their ecology, their connection to the shallow reef and how they are affected by disturbances.
It was thought that deep coral reefs are not affected by disturbances and stressors that affect shallow coral reefs. That coral bleaching, hurricanes and diseases were issues shallow coral had to endure with corals on the deep reef escaping these stressors. However recently it has been found that even these zones are affected by these disturbances and further explorations and studies are urgently needed to gain a better understanding of this.
The reef wall of South Caicos is an ideal place to explore the effects of disturbances on deep coral reefs. Hurricanes often sweep over our reefs and the island and their effects can be studied once we have footage from before and after the hurricane. A few months ago a fast spreading coral disease started to affect our corals, called Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. It is spreading fast and we see it at 30 meters depth, when we go scuba diving. Peering down our reef wall, we can see the fluorescent white color of dead coral tissue shining up at us, and we wonder: "How far down has this disease spread?"
It was sad to see the Notre Dame burn, such an iconic and important building for Paris.
Here on South Caicos the most impressive building is our coral reef wall. When we go diving, we are drawn to it. We swim down to it and peak over its edge and swim through the impressive Pinnacles and Grottoes it forms at a depth of 25 to 30 m. We love our wall and we share our enthusiasm for this impressive building with our students.
At the moment a new coral disease is sweeping through our coral wall called scleractinian coral tissue loss disease. Hundreds of corals along our beautiful wall are already affected and we don't know how deep it reaches and what causes it. Once we get our underwater drone we will be able to tell how deep it reaches. This will help scientists and managers all over the Caribbean that are also fighting this disease.
We can't wait to explore our magnificent coral wall fully instead of just peering down at it from its top.
Coral reefs are facing hurricanes, invasive species, coral bleaching and diseases. We know how these affect coral reefs located at 0-30 m depth that can be reached with recreational SCUBA diving, but hardly have any information on how they affect deeper coral reefs (31-100 m).
We at the School for Field Studies’ Center have been studying the coral reefs of South Caicos for 30 years and found out a lot about them. However all our research was done at shallow reefs since our SCUBA training does not allow us to go deeper. Our reefs do not stop at 30 meters depth though, as that is just the beginning of our reef wall that plunges down to 80-100 m depth. Every week while diving we peer down this wall wondering what is down there. How many tiger and hammerhead sharks are making their rounds? Is there a lion fish agglomeration down there? How far does the new coral disease (stony coral tissue loss disease) reach? These questions are what inspired this expedition.
At the beginning, this expedition is going to be very exploratory. Once we receive the Trident underwater drone, we will start exploring our reef wall to find out what our deep reef looks like and to practice our drone maneuvering skills. Later on we will go back to places that caught our eye and take footage with the drone swimming in a lawn mower pattern. This footage can then be used to generate 3D models of the reef on the computer. Moving through these models our followers will feel like they are diving on the deep reef themselves. Additionally, these models are great to archieve the deep reef from today for tomorrow and can be used to study many aspects of the reef.
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