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Bubble-free Diving Reveals Deep Coral Reef Activity

NSF Award:

VI-EPSCoR: RII: Building Research Strength in the US Virgin Islands  (University of The Virgin Islands)

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South of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, at a site known locally as the Grammanik Bank, scientists discovered an incredibly lush area of deep-water lettuce corals starting at depths of 200 feet. At this same location, another group of scientists closely observed and videotaped over 300 Bermuda chub spawning, a previously unseen event.

The scientists made their discoveries using closed-circuit rebreathers. Unlike typical SCUBA breathing gear that generates air bubbles, this advanced technology is bubble-free. The rebreathers allowed the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) scientists to explore unique coral reefs deeper than 100 feet, known as mesophotic reefs. It also minimized disturbance of natural behaviors, such as fish spawning and predation events.

This research extends our understanding of the composition and health of deep coral reefs and fish reproductive patterns. These data will guide natural-resource managers to develop new policies to ensure sustainability of our natural resources. Faculty and staff trained in the use of closed-circuit rebreathers have shared their knowledge with collaborators in Puerto Rico, Pohnpei (an island in Micronesia) and Bermuda.

Training and new equipment—including high-definition video and deep-diving technology--have opened many new research opportunities for UVI scientists. The new opportunities were made possible through NSF infrastructure investments and will help the continued growth of the Virgin Islands research capacity.


Images (1 of )

  • deep water colonies of lettuce coral at the grammanik bank, us virgin islands
  • diver videotapes chubs prior to mass spawning
Deep water lettuce coral colonies at the Grammanik Bank.
Richard Appeldoorn, UPR
A diver videotapes chubs prior to mass spawning.
Richard Nemeth, UVI-CMES

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