September 9, 2009

Divers Reach New Depths, Discoveries

NOAA scientists dove to new depths in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for the first time last month, venturing into never before seen territory.

Divers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessel Hiialakai reached depths of 250 feet over the past month while studying reefs where no human had ever gone before.

"We were seeing reefs that no human has ever laid eyes on before," Randall Kosaki, the research mission's lead scientist and diver, told the Associated Press.

"We literally have better maps of the moon than we do of coral reefs in the Hawaiian archipelago."

Kosaki said that most divers can reach depths of about 100 feet below the surface, but researchers have been enabled to reach new depths of 600 to 700 feet below, using underwater vehicles.

Kosaki mentioned an unexplored "twilight zone" between the depths seen by scuba divers and submersibles.

"The coral reef habitat goes four times deeper than where we've been working prior to this," said Kosaki.

Research teams used new technology to explore deeper than before. They made many discoveries, including a juvenile fish nursery at about 170 feet below.

"We also found almost every island we went to at least a dozen or 15 types of fishes that had not been seen at that island before primarily because that depth had not been accessed," said Kosaki.

Brian Bowen, a research professor at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, told the AP that scientists need to determine if nurseries like the one discovered are used to help replenish marine populations in shallow reefs.

"If you're dumping trash at 170 feet of water, you might be dumping it on the nursery grounds that keep your fishery going," Bowen said.


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