Sci­en­tists map Caribbean seafloor as part of twelve-year project to pro­tect reefs

The China Post - - LIFE - BY DAN­ICA COTO

U.S. sci­en­tists on Tues­day com­pleted a nearly two-week mission to ex­plore wa­ters around the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands as part of a 12-year project to map the Caribbean seafloor and help pro­tect its reefs.

A team with the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion stud­ied an area of 270 square miles ( 700 square kilo­me­ters), us­ing equip­ment in­clud­ing un­der­wa­ter glid­ers and a re­motely op­er­ated ve­hi­cle to help map the seafloor and lo­cate ar­eas where fish spawn. They fo­cused mostly on the south­ern coast of St. Croix and the north­west­ern coast of St. Thomas.

“It’s a rel­a­tively un­ex­plored but be­lieved to be rich ecosys­tem,” lead re- searcher Tim Bat­tista said by tele­phone. “We’re able to map large ar­eas that you couldn’t do with just divers.”

The in­for­ma­tion will be used in ef­forts to con­serve coral reefs as well as to up­date nav­i­ga­tional charts and help gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials man­age and bet­ter pro­tect fish pop­u­la­tions.

Reefs across the Caribbean have shrunk by more than 50 per­cent since the 1970s, with ex­perts blam­ing cli­mate change as well as a drop in the pop­u­la­tions of par­rot­fish and sea urchins.

Part of the mission fo­cused on study­ing the habi­tat and num­ber of deep­wa­ter snap­pers that have be­come in­creas­ingly popular with fish­er­men in the area, sci­en­tist Chris Tay­lor said. Re­searchers cur­rently know very lit­tle about the sta­tus and habi­tat of the silk snap­per, which has golden eyes and is al­most iri­des­cent pink in color, he said.

About two-thirds of the sur­vey was con­ducted in deep wa­ter, in depths up to 7,500 feet (2,300 me­ters), re­searchers said.

Among the more in­ter­est­ing dis­cov­er­ies was an un­der­wa­ter land­slide about 6 square miles (16 square kilo­me­ters) in size as well as hun­dreds of cylin­dri­cal sea floor struc­tures that were packed closely to­gether and fea­tured hard and soft coral on top, Bat­tista said.

“It was re­ally kind of unique,” he said. “I hadn’t seen that be­fore.”

Re­searchers also found a col­lec­tion of sea anemones in pur­ple, green, white and black; gray sea cu­cum­bers with stubby green spines; and white starfish with red stripes.

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