This remote, northern Pacific chain is comprised of more than 50 volcanic islands and sea mounts. Although the region has been poorly studied, each expedition has yielded a remarkable diversity of deep water corals and sponges.
The corals form vast fields rather than typical reefs and take their nutrients directly from the water column. They are not reliant upon sunlight for symbiotic photosynthesis as shallow tropical corals are. Because so little research has been done in this region, the opportunities for finding new species and range extensions for known species is very high. Some examples of corals that have been observed with robotic systems include stony cup corals, fleshy Octo-coral sea whips, Hydrocorals, black corals and lophelia.
These coral fields or gardens provide critical habitat to fish and invertebrates. Although these regions were heavily trawled in years past, today a large area has been fully protected from trawling. Using Deep HOPE submersibles, we will evaluate the success of the ban on trawling and document recovery rates of the ecosystem.