NOAA's Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory's submersible Pisces V in the 'Au'au channel near the island of Maui collecting data on a mesophotic coral community. Scientists do not know much about these types of habitats, largely because they occur at depths that are difficult to investigate using conventional SCUBA gear.
Researchers in Hawaii recently discovered that coral habitats found at intermediate depths between 30-150 meters (about 100-490 feet) host some of the same species that live on coral reefs in shallower waters.
Research continues to improve our understanding of the diversity and community structure of animals that live in mesophotic coral ecosystems, as well as inform resource managers to better protect these resources.
These coral communities are light dependent, but thrive at depths where sunlight penetration is low. The scientific name for the area where these coral communities are found is the mesophotic zone — 'meso' for middle and 'photic' for light.
During this study, consisting of a series of research expeditions, scientists have also discovered new species of algae that are adapted to low-light conditions. Preliminary results show that these mesophotic coral ecosystems, and associated sponge and algal communities, cover a much larger area of the sea floor in the 'Au'au channel off the island of Maui than previously realized.
This ongoing work is supported by a Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies grant from the Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, part of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, conducted in partnership with NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research's Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory.