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Cliffs, Currents, and Corals of Quinault Canyon

Exploring the cliffs, currents, and corals of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Nautilus Live scientists came across abundant coral, sponge, and fish species that are helping to fill-in the blanks of this enigmatic seascape.    The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) is a biologically diverse and ecologically rich region that encompasses nearly 8,250-square-kilometers (3,200 square miles) of coastal and ocean habitats along the wild, remote and scenic Olympic Coast of Washington State. Between September 20 and 30, 2020, E/V Nautilus explored methane seeps and deep-sea coral and sponge reefs in Quinault and Grays Canyons, located along the wild, remote, and scenic Olympic Coast of Washington State. Quinault Canyon lies partially within sanctuary boundaries and within the protected harvest areas for the Quinault Indian Nation, a sovereign tribal government with reserved rights to marine areas. Deep-sea canyon communities in and adjacent to Quinault Canyon are known to thrive in steep, hard-bottom habitats within Quinault Canyon, including areas mapped by Nautilus in previous expeditions.    While here, we surveyed deep-sea corals, sponge, and fish habitats, as well as unique organisms associated with more than 2,000 methane seep and hydrate locations identified in this region over the past decade.   Diving at depths between 380 and 1300 meters (1200 and 4200 feet), our scientists came across bright pink bubblegum corals seemingly suspended in the water column as they hung off of the dramatic canyon walls, sheltering the delicate brittle stars nestled within their branches. Incredible footage of deep-sea rough tail skates with spines along their wings and backs, “floofy” paragorgia corals with polyps passionately fluttering in the current, thorny headed fish and propelling shrimp that call igloo-like glass sponges home — this vibrant region of the world is filled with a diverse group of otherworldly species that call the icy depths home.