Bubblegum Coral, Basket Stars, and Other Wild Diversity Near PMNM

Over 1,200 meters deep on an unnamed ridge within the Central Pacific's Liliʻuokalani Ridge, our Corps of Exploration was delighted to encounter stunning biodiversity at a place they didn't expect to find it — the depths of the oxygen minimum zone. This ridge revealed a continuous seafloor community of yellow Plexaurids and purple Stolonofiran corals, Rossela sponges, basket stars, brittlestars, and many more associated invertebrates. Bright colors astounded our control van as they examined octocorals and views of a chimera, halosaur, hermit crabs, and even some unidentified sponge species.

Enjoy a glimpse into one of the richest environments of our 2022 season so far including a massive bubblegum coral (Paragorgia sp.) community complete with associates like sea urchins, basket stars, and fish. This coral was named for its bulbous branch tips that resemble our favorite childhood candy. Like other deep-sea corals, bubblegum corals are filter feeders that capture prey, such as plankton, drifting by in the ocean currents. Although just outside the monument boundaries, this landscape parallels the rich coral and sponge communities commonly encountered on seamounts throughout Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. As we visit the Monument, the ancestral homeland of the Native Hawaiian people and the largest marine conservation area in the US, we gratefully acknowledge generations of indigenous Hawaiians and today’s stewards of these waters.

Learn more about this expedition funded by NOAA Ocean Exploration via the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute with additional support from the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.