Foto Friday – Mediterranean Coral Reefs

The exploration vessel Nautilus is a 64-meter research vessel based in Turkey, owned and operated by the Ocean Exploration Trust, and funded in part by the US NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration. It’s also the flagship for marine explorer Dr. Robert D. Ballard, whom you might recognize from the National Geographic channel.

Nautilus was here off the coast of Israel this month, using sonar to explore the depths – as far down as 1.7 km – of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, “home to underwater landslides, deep-sea corals, ancient archaeological sites, gas seeps, and many other interesting features.”

Already this week, together with a team of experts headed by Professor Zvi Ben-Avraham of the University of Haifa’s Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences, the researchers announced a major discovery: for the first time, an area of reefs with deep-sea corals has been found in the Mediterranean.

The area apparently stretches over a few kilometers, 700 meters under the surface and some 30-40 km off the coast of Tel Aviv. The southeastern region of the Mediterranean has only sparse sea life, which means, as team member Dr. Yizhaq Makovsky put it, “It’s like finding a flourishing oasis in the middle of the desert.”

The collaborative research team has begun to examine their discoveries which include two shipwrecks, probably modern boats that sank sometime during the past few decades…

A Chimaera Monstrosa, of the “ghost shark” family that branched off from sharks some 400 million years ago…

And a 10 centimeter long (or is that wide?) crab hiding in the recess of a rock.

The Haifa team gave special thanks to Nautilus’ technological capabilities. The vessel is equipped with the remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) Hercules, Argus, Diana, and Echo (Hercules did the work in Israel but you can read more about all the ROVs here). It has a high-bandwidth satellite system on board to facilitate remote science and education via the Inner Space Center (ISC) at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography and Exploration Command Consoles located around the world.

You can also log into Nautilus’ webcams, any time of the day or night, to see what crew is up to. They’re in Santorini right now, exploring underwater volcanoes. Hope they come back soon – there’s lots more to discover here.

 

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