3 observations in 1 expeditions
The past month has been full of excitement. We have been scouring the coast for mesophotic coral ecosystems and have been successful. Explore and you will find! The most exciting element of our study is the prospect of researching and exploring depths that have been seen by a privileged few or no one at all. We were told that there wouldn't be much beyond 30 m here in the Philippines, but we now know that this is incorrect as the coral reefs continue beyond diving limits and tend to be intact and healthier the deeper one explores. Monstrous gorgonians continue to take our breath away. Our wifi connection is very limited here making it difficult to upload pictures (let alone videos), but we hope to upload more pictures of these beautiful environments so you may be able to see the richness we are experiencing every day thanks to OpenROV.
The past few months have been anything but dull - the ROV has kept us busy and amused! After a couple of issues finding acrylic cement (what seemed like a near impossible task in Ireland) and getting a glue gun from a teacher family member the ROV is up and running (named Stanley after a temperamental but water loving dog). We brought it out for testing in the Royal Canal last week and after a few minutes of swimming and doing all the right things we noticed a small bit of water in the electronics tube. It turns out we had a misplaced o-ring (always check your o-rings carefully before adding water to the mix). We discovered that rice sealed in a plastic container was a perfect desiccant for the electronics board, which got a bit wet during the flood. Our research expedition began yesterday with 36 hours or so of flights to the Philippines. The ROV was subject to much questioning (mostly from interested security guards) in Ireland and flew through customs in London Heathrow, Beijing, and Manilla airports - always good to know for your future travels as we were worried the lithium batteries might be an issue. The project is about to seriously get underway over the coming days as make it to our final destination - Marine Conservation Philippines in Zamboanguita - and with their help we will begin our research into the relatively unknown realm of mesophotic coral ecosystems. Stay tuned for some epic pictures and videos!
Ultimately, the project’s goal is to defy the statement “out of sight, out of mind” for mesophotic ecosystems to bring these unique and overlooked habitats to the front line where science and society collide. Mesophotic ecosystems are habitats found beyond recreational diving limits (30m) but shallower than 150m. Buffered from direct and indirect anthropogenic disturbances by depth, these systems are thought to act as an important reservoir of recruits for coral and fish populations in shallow-water systems. In spite of this proposed role, our current understanding of mesophotic systems fall short of the scientific breakthroughs made for their neighboring deep and shallow-water counterparts. We currently lack baseline information about the occurrence, ecology, and potential for these mesophotic environments to influence patterns of shallow-water reef persistence through larval, genetic, and population connectivity. I wish to directly address this knowledge gap by identifying ecological patterns across a depth gradient and at a wider geographic scale to determine the role that mesophotic ecosystems play in mitigating the stress that shallower habitats face today. All my life I have relentlessly worked to help people harvest the same appreciation that I have for the ocean, so that they too may understand the invaluable services that it offers to society. So an important aspect of my science is also communicating it to a wider audience. The nature of the video data collected with OpenROV during my research activities will act as a highy effective educational tool for engaging with a non-scientific audience. With this I will showcase the organisms that exist at these dark and foreboding depths to reveal their life giving vitality via short educational videos and documentary, freely available online. The outcomes of these scientific goals are ambitious, but nonetheless of great biological significance as we embark on a race to alleviate the widespread degradation of shallow-water systems. My drive and passion, combined with the capabilities of OpenROV, make up the key ingredients needed to pioneer the exploration and research of these habitats. Together we can fuel a crucial reform of the current societal outlook on mesophotic ecosystems with a view to changing our erstwhile notion to “out of sight, but no longer out of mind.”