Waitt Institute’s CATALYST Expedition a Success; Three Deep Sea Coral Reefs Discovered

December 12, 2008

FORT PIERCE, Fla., Dec. 12 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Waitt Institute
for Discovery’s CATALYST ONE expedition team sailed home aboard the R/V Seward
Johnson on Wednesday energized by the discovery of three never-before
identified Lophelia coral reefs. The science team, led by John Reed of the
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) at Florida Atlantic University,
spent six days at sea utilizing Waitt’s two 6,000-meter autonomous underwater
vehicles (AUVs) to remotely map the ocean floor in a region under
consideration for status as a Marine Protected Area. The brand new CATALYST
AUVs, nicknamed Ginger and Mary Ann, were operated by a go-to team of
versatile engineers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, as part of the
CATALYST Program partnership.

The three newly discovered Lophelia coral reefs range in size from 40-60
meters (150-200 feet) tall and sit in water about 400m (1300 feet) deep.
Individual Lophelia can grow to several meters in diameter and one to three
meters high. Based on radiocarbon dating, live Lophelia coral off the coast of
Florida is estimated to be 700 years old and is home to thousands of species
of fish and invertebrates.

“The mapping of Lophelia reefs in the Florida Straits is paramount to
their survival,” said Harbor Branch’s John Reed. “Bottom trawl fishing
equipment can turn a flourishing healthy reef into a pile of lifeless rubble
in a matter of hours and the reefs cannot be protected until they are
discovered and documented.” Reed has studied these fragile ecosystems off
Florida’s coast for more than 30 years and will use the mapping data from
CATALYST ONE to support his policy efforts with the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the South Atlantic Fishery Management
Council to delineate the region as a Deep Coral Habitat Area of Particular
Concern (HAPC). The CATALYST ONE results will also assist Harbor Branch
Oceanographic Institute in determining exact locations to revisit and explore
in person with their Johnson Sea Link submersibles on future HBOI expeditions.

“Every discovery made with our CATALYST AUVs is really just a beginning,”
said Dominique Rissolo, Executive Director of the Waitt Institute for
Discovery. “We see each of our CATALYST expeditions as a springboard, enabling
and inspiring future discoveries, targeted scientific investigations, and
priority conservation efforts.”

The CATALYST Program’s cutting-edge AUV technology enables the scientific
community for the first time to survey large areas of ocean floor with
advanced accuracy and efficiency. The program’s Hydroid REMUS 6000 vehicles
were developed and engineered by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and were
commissioned by the Waitt Institute for Discovery under the direction of
President and Founder, Ted Waitt. Carrying multiple instruments and sensors,
including side-scan sonar and a photographic camera, the Waitt AUVs map the
ocean floor by tracking back and forth over the bottom along a pre-programmed
track. At the end of each sortie, which can last up to 18 hours, the AUV is
recovered aboard the R/V Seward Johnson and data are downloaded, processed and
analyzed to produce a mosaic of pictures revealing the sea floor, forming the
most detailed pictures of the ocean bottom that existing technologies can

    For more information and imagery:

    The Waitt Institute CATALYST Program


    HBOI @Sea - CATALYST ONE Expedition Updates


    WHOI Oceanographic Systems Lab


SOURCE Waitt Institute for Discovery

Source: newswire

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