Stunning Iridigorgia Soft Corals Gracefully Feather Through the Water Column
With multiple spirals and willow-like tendrils, deep-sea Iridigorgia soft corals pepper an otherwise barren seascape with their fine, intricate designs. Our team viewed these stunning curling corals at a depth of 1,660 meters (5,450 feet). Iridigorgia offer prime real estate to a variety of aquatic organisms who live and thrive along their stalk, including hydroids, crinoids, and brittle stars.
“That is a nice condo tower out in the middle of nowhere,” joke our researchers as closeups show the intricate structures feathering through the water column. Soft corals of many shapes and sizes are an example of the unique biological diversity that can be found around a seamount. Much like plants and trees, these marine invertebrates are soft, bendable, and made up of hundreds or thousands of very small polyps that use tiny arm-like appendages to grab detritus and other organic material drifting downward toward the seabed.
The corals were seen while diving an unnamed seamount in the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument (PRINMM). One of the world’s largest conservation areas in the world, PRINMM encompasses seven national wildlife refuges over 400,000 square miles. Together, the area represents one of the last frontiers of scientific discovery in the world and is a safe haven for Central Tropical Pacific biodiversity. The monument and the national wildlife refuges within it protect entire ecosystems – from coral reefs to deep seamounts.
The main objective of this expedition is to collect deepwater baseline information to support science and management decisions in and around U.S. marine protected areas in the central Pacific. We will conduct seafloor mapping and acquire video, biological, chemical, and geological samples in deep-sea portions of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in order to better understand marine habitats, biogeographic patterns, seafloor mineral distribution, and the geologic history of these areas.