Ocean acidification is a major global threat.

We are beginning to understand the effects on shallow water coral reefs, but the most immediate impact will be in the deep sea. Recently, Dr. Cordes' lab discovered that the deep reefs of the Gulf of Mexico are closer to the carbonate saturation horizon than any coral reef anywhere in the world. Dr. Cordes has now been funded by NSF to explore these reefs and determine how the Lophelia coral is able to survive under these conditions. The goal is to discover the genetic secrets possessed by these “Supercorals” and use them to protect the rest of the world’s coral reefs. 

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What is Ocean Acidification?

In addition to the more well-known effects of the rise of CO2 in our atmosphere, much of this CO2 is also ending up in our oceans, resulting in ocean acidification. Much like the carbonation in soda will rot your teeth, an increased concentration of CO2 in the ocean will eventually rot our coral reefs. The effects of ocean acidification are first being felt in the deep ocean, where the seawater is already more acidic than in shallow waters. Although a lot of attention has been paid to the shallow water coral reefs of the world, the less-well-known deepwater reefs are under more immediate threat. In this study, and through this film, we hope to answer some of the pressing scientific questions related to the future of our reefs, while bringing this crisis to the public’s attention.

 
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This is Lophelia Pertusa.

It is the most common deepwater coral in the world. In the Gulf of Mexico, Dr. Cordes has been exploring new areas of the sea floor for more than a decade in order to locate the deepwater reefs formed by Lophelia and preserve them from direct impacts. During the course of this research, his group realized that they were also under immediate threat from ocean acidification. The waters around the Lophelia reefs of the Gulf are already some of the most acidic in the world. How is Lophelia surviving in these conditions? Could the answer to this question provide some hope to all of the world’s corals? 

 
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The mission.

We set out to sea for three weeks on the R/V Atlantis from Gulfport, MS. Equipped with the newly redesigned Alvin submersible, and the autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry we visited some of the most spectacular Lophelia reefs known, and explored the deep sea for new reef habitats. We collected corals to keep alive in order to determine if some of them are more resistant to ocean acidification than others. This may help us preserve the Lophelia reefs in the future by identifying some resistant strains. Since the mission, we have continued our work to establish a genetic basis for this resilience through which we may be able to suggest a mechanism that will help not just Lophelia, but all of our coral reefs.